Around the Fringes – Tevita Metuisela
Photo: SPA Images
He may not be a household name amongst the HSBC Waratahs faithful just yet but powerful no.8 Tevita Metuisela certainly has the pedigree to be a success at the highest levels of the game. He was adopted from birth by his father’s sister – who just happens to be the mother of a certain George and Tyrone Smith – and as you can imagine, rugby was never far from the young Tevita’s thoughts.
“Tyrone and I are the same age and we were really close growing up and even though we’re actually cousins, we call each other brother and I still call George’s parents Mum and Dad. It was a rugby family with seven boys in the house and we used to play three-on-three on a bit of grass out the front, but back then the older brothers used to win – they always had dominance over the younger ones!”
Having been educated at Narrabeen Sports High alongside a host of future Super Rugby talent including former HSBC Waratahs Josh Holmes and Josh Valentine, Tevita continued his schooling with the Manly Roos junior side and as if growing up with one Wallaby legend wasn’t enough of an influence, there was another on hand to keep the boys on the straight and narrow.
“Willie Ofahengaue used to help out at the Roos and if we didn’t show up for training, he’d be round the house looking for me and Tyrone the next day, waiting outside the front door for us to come home from school. Being of Tongan heritage, he was always somebody to look up to because of what he achieved in the game.”
Despite his passion for rugby, Tevita also dabbled in the rival code in his teenage years and his talents in the 13-man game didn’t go unnoticed. At 18, he was picked up by the Sydney Roosters and began a rugby league career which took in almost six years and two more clubs – Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers – but was a frustratingly stop-start affair. “Injuries cut me down a bit but I played as much first grade as I could and then one day, I just decided to come back to union. Having been out of the game for so long, I spent some time with the Brumbies Academy and tried to learn as much as I could to better my rugby skills.”
It worked and after two impressive seasons in the Shute Shield with the Manly Marlins, he jumped at the chance to follow his club coach and fellow former ‘leaguie’ Phil Blake, across the Nullarbor to the Western Force at the end of 2010. He thoroughly enjoyed his season in Perth last year but with a burgeoning family – his wife was pregnant with their second child – still back in Sydney, he made the decision to return home and take up an opportunity with the HSBC Waratahs, which also gave him the chance to renew acquaintances with an old friend.
“I played a little bit of league for the Manly Sea Eagles as a junior alongside Cliffy Palu in U15s or U16s so I’ve known him for about eleven or twelve years I guess.” And when the Wallaby enforcer was ruled out through injury for the match against the Highlanders in Round Three, it was he who helped Tevita prepare for his debut. “Having Cliffy over with us even though he didn’t play made it easier, because he guided me through what to expect. He told me to just go out and play my natural game and it helped.”
While he’s realistic about his chances of regular football this year – “If Cliffy’s fit, he’ll start,” Tevita says – he’s excited to be battling for the no.8 jersey with one of the game’s best alongside one of the game’s most promising, in Lopeti Timani. He’s also happy to be the newest member of the HSBC Waratahs’ ‘Team Tonga’, which now makes up almost one third of the squad. The question is, where have all the Fijians and Samoans gone? “Seilala Lam is Samoan but he feels so left out that he’s trying to be Tongan to join in!”
With the qualities already displayed in the Cambridge Blue by the likes of big Cliffy, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Sekope Kepu and Daniel Halangahu, the 28-year-old is another very welcome addition to the fold. ‘Monū’ia’ Tevita! (Good luck!)
Original version published in the NSW Waratahs v Sharks match program on March 24th, 2012