Adam Tangata: The easy-going Cook Islander taking the Championship by storm
This article was first published in Rugby League World during the Summer of 2016. Want to read more articles like this? Get Rugby League World every month in stores or by purchasing online at totalrl.com/RLW.
“I used to be with a lot of country boys who hated city life.”
Adam Tangata, while very similar at heart, was quite different to his peers, with a sense of adventure resulting in quite an incredible journey around the world. Since his upbringing on the beautiful Cook Islands, he has lived in New Zealand, Australia, and most recently, he has embraced life in the scenic outskirts of Halifax.
We meet at a popular spot three miles out of the pub-packed town centre, with a stunning backdrop of the various hills and fields that populate West Yorkshire.
Tangata, ever the professional, decides on orange juice as his preferred beverage, he even resists the temptation to indulge in his favourite condiment, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.
It becomes apparent pretty quickly that the 25-year-old is an incredibly laid back character who has the ability to take anything in his stride. It is that relaxed mentality that has allowed him to grab every opportunity presented to him without worrying about the implications.
“Sometimes Mitch (Cahalane) will be stressing and I’m just like ‘relax man, it’ll take care of itself’,” he told RLW.
“Tomorrow’s another day and start again. I think that’s just where I was brought up and how relaxed everything is.
“For me, life isn’t about wanting this and thinking you should be here or there. Nah, I’m not like that, I just enjoy what I’ve been given and reap it. You can’t be picky or choosy, just enjoy it.”
But behind his calm exterior, the Halifax star is very passionate about the things that mean the most to him; his knowledge of the club’s history is remarkable, with several references made to the old Thrum Hall ground. Rugby League is also close to his heart, with conversation once moving to a play Fax used in a recent game that was inspired by James Graham. But first and foremost, he’s a proud Cook Islander.
“I was born and raised in the Cook Islands,” he explained.
“Its biggest income is tourism. I’m not being biased, but I reckon it is the best island to visit. I’ve been to the other islands, but the Cook Islands is the most beautiful. It’s so slow back home, you can just relax and not realise the time.”
It was in his native country that he first encountered rugby, albeit the 15-man code. He played with his dad and uncles, with a bottle replacing a regular ball.
He lived a particularly cushy life as a teenager. His grandad was the chief inspector on the island, which got him out of trouble as he travelled around on his scooter.
But eventually, he outgrew that cruisy lifestyle. It was time to go and make a name for himself.
In the first step on his sporting journey, he made an invaluable friend in the shape of a man very well known on these shores.
Kevin Iro is arguably the most well-known product of the Cook Islands in British Rugby League, having enjoyed lengthy spells at Wigan, Leeds and St Helens.
It was when Tangata joined a local sports academy that he first encountered him.
“He ran the course. It gave young sports people a pathway.
“We had an assignment to bring in one day but we were late. My mate made up a lame excuse, he said he’d lost a jandal (flip-flop). We got in and Kev asked if he’d found it. He said no but the other was in the back pocket and Kev saw. He was having none of it and Kev said ‘You two are doing 11ks’. I wasn’t involved, I was just the driver! But he made us run 11ks while he followed us in the car. He kept cracking the whip if we started walking. I was only 15.
“On a Friday afternoon it was meant to be a community day, where we’d pick up rubbish or help old people, something like that.
“One day six of us were sent to a house to trim the hedges, mow the lawns and that. We were getting on with it and we saw his car parked outside the house. We were all like ‘hang on a minute’, and he just walks out of his house! It was still community work, he said.”
His personal anecdotes involving the now 48-year-old are endless; another funny story told is about a time Iro was seen on a run as others were on the way home from a big night out.
But despite all that, there’s no doubting the influence he has had on Tangata’s career.
“My dad has been my biggest influence in Rugby League, but I’ve always turned to Kev. Tere Glassie is another one, he used to play for Cas Tigers. Being the guy Kev is he always finds time to speak. He knows what it takes to play at the highest level, so I’m never going to doubt what he tells me.”
Following the completion of his course, Tangata earned a scholarship at Saint Kentigern Presbyterian College in Auckland, New Zealand.
By this point, he still hadn’t played Rugby League. It wasn’t until the age of 21 that he finally tried his hand at the 13-man game.
“I got a call from a friend, who asked if I want to come play park footy in Australia. I was offered a house, a car and whatever, and I just went for it. I got a chance to train with the Canberra under 20’s, but because of my age I couldn’t play with them, so they moved me to their reserve side, which was the Mounties.”
Just two years after first taking up the sport, his proudest moment came when he was selected for the Cook Islands to play in the 2013 World Cup. The opportunity not only allowed him the opportunity to rub shoulders with stars such as Anthony Gelling, Tinirau Arona and Dylan Napa. But it gave Tangata his first taste of the English lifestyle. The experience ultimately sparked a desire inside to experience this side of the world again.
12 months later and Tangata was packing his bags and moving to the other side of the world for good. After being recommended to Halifax by their former player, notorious one-on-one ball stealer Gavin Clinch, he agreed to join the Championship club.
“Me being me, I’ve always jumped at opportunities,” he said. “The chance to come play in England and learn more about Halifax as a club and a place got me interested. I wanted to see what this side of the world has to offer.”
And Tangata has made a name for himself since. His performances have made him a favourite on The Shay terraces and have reportedly earned him numerous admirers in Super League.
However, he was by no means an instant success. While he was loving life off the field, Tangata was struggling to impress on it, which resulted in him frequently being left out of the side in his first four months at Fax.
“I’ll be honest, it was my attitude,” he said.
“I thought I’d come to England and that was it, I’d made it. I’d come from a little island in the middle of the ocean to England and I was just enjoying it.
“I was enjoying everything too much. I was in a cafe with Luke Ambler one day, it started snowing and I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen snow before so I ran out into the road and was trying to catch it in my mouth. Luke was on the side telling me to stop being an idiot and get inside.
“But then I realised I’d not even done anything yet, I wasn’t even playing. It was an attitude check for me. I’d have my mum on the phone saying ‘Your attitude is no good, you need to do this and need to do that’.
“I started working hard again with Richard Marshall who helped me with a few things and I kicked on from there. Attitude goes a long way I feel.”
But since cementing himself in the Halifax side, Tangata hasn’t looked back. His return to the team coincided with the side’s incredible winning streak that earned them a place in the Qualifiers in 2015, and last year his performances went up another level, seeing this easy-going guy become one of the most feared forwards in the Championship.
Like many overseas imports that have preceded him since Halifax’s Championship-winning side of 1986, which starred the great Graham Eadie among many other Australians, Tangata has fallen in love with the West Yorkshire town.
“You can’t explain it,” he said. There’s something about Halifax, it has a charm that I know many others have felt in the past.
“In Halifax you have the best of both worlds, you have the country life but also a decent town.
“The fans are incredible. I’ve met fans that tell me how they’ve supported Fax since they were eight years old, and they’re old men. Hearing their stories about Thrum Hall and everything, I just love being a part of that culture and dynasty.
“When you see passionate kids from Halifax supporting their team, I feel obliged to help them enjoy their footy and interact, especially given they’re Halifax fans, because I think they’re the most passionate.
“Everyone’s goal is to get back into Super League. Every wants it to be like it was in the 80s. Players before me will have had the goal that I have, but if we keep achieving the little things the rest will take care of itself.”Comment on this and other stories on the Total Rugby League Fans Forum