Sitaleki Akaoula: Warrington’s new enforcer too shy to play in front of his friends

It won’t take Super League fans too long to figure out what they’re going to get from Warrington new boy Sitaleki Akauola.

The 25-year-old is as tough as they come. A fierce carrier of the ball with aggression in abundance, he was dubbed as ‘The Panthers Hardman’ at Penrith. He was, in many ways, their enforcer.

But look past his exterior and there is a quiet, timid man adapting to the new life around him in the UK. It was his bashful tendencies that inadvertently resulted in him taking up Rugby League in the first place.

“I grew up playing rugby union until the age of 15,” he said.

“We had this thing back in New Zealand at high school where you had to play at school and I found it really embarrassing. I was a shy kid growing up and I didn’t like playing in front of school kids, so I didn’t want to play for school.

“I ended up playing league instead, a good friend of mine helped me, Kenny Bromwich and he pretty much talked me into league.”

But Akauola hasn’t enjoyed a “never look back” fairytale since. Far from it, in fact.

He stopped playing again at the age of 19 as he left New Zealand and moved to Australia.

But then, another opportunity to take up the game cropped up unexpectedly.

“The chance play Rugby League hit me again,” he said.

“I was fortunate enough to get a trial at the Wests Tigers and was fortunate enough to make the under 20s team and we made the Grand Final.”

His unconventional rise to the top of the game makes you think somehow, a career in Rugby League was simply fate for the Auckland-born star.

A move to Penrith followed and now he’s at Warrington, a remarkable 10-year journey considering he’s the same person who too shy to play in front of his friends.

“I do get shy now and the nerves come before every game, but what would the game be without nerves? I like receiving from kick-off to try and get the nerves knocked out of me.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and what better place to do that than England. I thought I’d come later in my career but there’s nothing like the present.

“I guess if I was never shy growing up I would have never played Rugby League. I’d have not been in England that’s for sure.

“I guess you can get something out of being shy.”

Still only 25, Akauola has time on his side. But in the early stages of his career he has established himself as one of the fiercest competitors going with some jaw-dropping carries and spine-tingling tackles.

It’s hard to believe he’s the same person when you speak to him away from the field. He’s quiet, so much so that it’s hard to hear him over the noise being generated around the room where other interviews are being held.

So how does he transition from that humble individual to the fierce competitor we’ve seen on the pitch?

“When the hooter goes off your body is the team’s body,’ he said.

“That’s what’s important. You’re doing everything you can for the team. You’re doing what your team needs from you and what your coach needs from you.”