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Tuqiri conquers his fears
October 30, 2010
AROUND this time last year, Lote Tuqiri walked through the front gate of a thatched cottage in a tiny village on the outskirts of Leicester, across the road from a pub. It was ‘‘a million miles’’ from where he was yesterday - sitting in the foyer of a Melbourne hotel, about to play a rugby league Test against England and recalling how it had all come about.
‘‘It’s a spin-out,’’ Tuqiri said. ‘‘It was a million miles away from my thoughts - to be in the Kangaroos jersey 12 months later. I was just trying to get the family settled into English life, getting settled into a little village, a thatched cottage. It just didn’t cross my mind at all. I hadn’t even signed anything with the [Wests] Tigers. It was the furthest thing from my mind.’’
That season’s Four Nations tournament was still in the forefront of it. While he couldn’t bring himself to even consider the prospect of playing for the Kangaroos again, having done so in his previous incarnation as a league player in 2001-02, and while he was still a rugby player - turning out for English club Leicester Tigers - league still pushed his buttons.
Having just moved into his home in Burton Overy, he was perturbed to discover he couldn’t watch Australia’s Four Nations triumph. He was forced to check the results on the internet and watch highlights by the same process, and recalls watching fullback Billy Slater score two tries in the final from his laptop. Still, it never dawned on him that he could be playing with the Melbourne star at some stage. Even when he did sign with Wests Tigers, he refused to get too far ahead of himself when it came to his goals. While he stated he wanted to play representative football again, privately he was actually torn by some doubt.
‘‘I did find it all a bit daunting, when I did sign,’’ Tuqiri said. ‘‘I was nervous about coming back to rugby league, seeing how I’d go. The first game - I hadn’t given myself a lot of time. I arrived three days before the first game.’’
The rest is history but worth recording again. He scored a try with his first touch, found himself over the line on another 17 occasions for the club, and by October had become the first player to become a league-union-league international. He did that against Papua New Guinea last Sunday at Parramatta Stadium, admitting he was more nervous before that game than before any this year - ‘‘it was fear of the unknown, really’’ - and will back up again against England tomorrow at AAMI Park.
‘‘It’s great to get another chance,’’ Tuqiri said. ‘‘There’s a lot of competition for spots. I didn’t get too many opportunities last week but I can’t wait to get out there on Sunday night. Just to play amongst the calibre of players there, it’s an honour.’’
The sign of a good side is the quality of player who could not make it, and knowing that the Clive Churchill medallist, St George Illawarra’s Darius Boyd, is waiting off the wings, Tuqiri knows he has some talent breathing down his neck. Also apparent is the accusation last week that he was selected over Boyd because of favouritism from his club and country coach Tim Sheens.
‘‘I didn’t really read too much or listen to too much,’’ Tuqiri said. ‘‘I just really wanted to concentrate on doing my job, for the blokes in the team and for the jersey. If you start listening to all that stuff that goes on outside of the team, you might start believing a bit of it.’’