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Kiwi powerhouse Constantine Mika’s career has been far from conventional. He is a man who has tried just about everything with an oval-shaped ball and it has led him to the south of France, where he is once again proving a key figure.
Some players’ careers take a predictable flightpath. Constantine Mika’s has been anything but that.
He burst onto the scene as an NRL newcomer, earned an international call-up, became a solid Super League regular, he then quit the game, enjoyed a spell in rugby union and then decided to start all over again in the European game’s third tier.
Despite all that, the former Hull KR star has a smile on his face as part of a newly promoted Toulouse squad.
“I’m just excited to be back playing Rugby League,” said Mika, who made his debut last July.
“It’s a good club, the town’s pretty good, and the team is doing alright. It’s a good time to join.”
Spending the summer in the south of France must come easy after three seasons in the Australian mining city of Newcastle, where he made 14 first-grade appearances for the Knights, and two summers in Hull with the Robins.
“As long as I’m enjoying my footy, it doesn’t really matter where I am, but I’d say staying in the south of France and playing at a higher level would be pretty much perfect for me,” added the Auckland-born loose forward.
“I’m hoping – god-willing – to stay here for a couple of years, as long as we’re in the Championship.
“The lifestyle had a big influence on my decision to stay in France – the weather is beautiful. My wife is from St Helens so I see her every couple of weeks, either when we play over in England or she comes over to Toulouse.
“I live by myself in Toulouse, about an hour or so away from the mountains, so I go for a drive out of the city and go for strolls up there. Being in Provence though was wonderful.”
It is little surprise that nearly two years after quitting Hull KR and turning his back on pro sport, Mika found solace in Provence, a region of stunning countryside, vineyards, beautiful hilltop villages, fabulous cities, and Rugby League. C’est parfait.
However, Mika pitched up in French second-division rugby union with Aix. He lasted a season after crossing codes proved tougher than he imagined.
“Coming from New Zealand it’s the most dominant sport in the country and I grew up watching it. I’d played a couple of school games, nothing professional. But after a couple of games I knew it wasn’t for me.
“There was a bit of adapting to do, learn new things, new rules. If you haven’t grown up playing a sport all your life, the transition doesn’t come naturally. It took me about a month to adapt properly but I just wasn’t enjoying it. Now I have the utmost respect for those who did make the transition and do well in union because it’s fairly difficult and they made it look easy.
“At my age (27), I thought ‘why aren’t I playing Rugby League, where I know what I’m doing?’ It was a bit touch and go there for a second. I missed league and deep down I always knew I was going to come back.”
Everything had been going so well in the 13-man game when Mika walked away in 2013. He had clocked up over 50 appearances for Rovers and was becoming an established player, scoring ten tries from either second row or loose forward, even at stand-off.
“I enjoyed my time at Hull KR but I had personal things going on and had to walk away from the game, not just the club,” he admitted.
“It was nothing to do with the club. I’ve got a lot of good friends there who are still friends now.”
That Rovers side under Craig Sandercock had the makings of a successful team if it had not broken up. Liam Watts and Scott Taylor ended up at Hull FC while Josh Hodgson headed to Canberra to fulfil his talent. A case of what might have been, perhaps.
“I definitely saw the potential in those boys – they always had something special about them,” insisted Mika.
“Hodgson was always a class hooker and his progression has been outstanding. The other two boys are at FC and making in-roads with them. They were all talented but they work hard – it doesn’t come easy. ‘Hodge’ was always a hard worker, doing the extras before and after training, and that’s helped his game. He’s also been around a few good players who’ve mentored him over the years.”