Sitaleki Akauola: Hurting people puts me off my game

Sitaleki Akauola remembers watching, praying, as St Helens youngster Aaron Smith laid on the floor after a brutal collision last year.

Akauola had flattened his opponent. Not only had he flattened him, he’d hurt him, badly. Smith left the field on the stretcher and was taken to hospital. He was subsequently diagnosed with whiplash.

The incident, however, rocked the former Penrith man as much as his adversary.

“It’s a really scary moment for the opposition but for myself, the last thing I want to do is hurt someone,” he told TotalRL.

“I don’t want to be the person dishing it, I feel a bit of guilt. I think ‘oh gosh, he’s hurt because of me’. It puts me off my game to be honest. You look at Mose (Masoe), how easy it is for something like that to happen, and it can happen to anyone. I find myself standing there praying that nothing has gone wrong.

“I remember being on the pitch praying and hoping he had no serious injuries. It’s really hard for me to try and get back in the game after that. You’ve got to remind yourself it’s your job and your game.”

That incident was one of several Akauola was involved in last year. A collision with Hull FC’s Scott Taylor, which has now gone viral, left his opponent concussed, while Wakefield youngster Titus Gwaze was also knocked out after attempting to tackle the New Zealand-born wrecking-ball.

But while his high-impact collisions delight spectators, they anger coaches. Akauola came in for criticism from across the competition for his running technique, which sees him lead with the shoulder.

Though the shoulder charge has been outlawed, leading with the shoulder in possession is legal, meaning Akauola is doing nothing against the rules.

Despite that, the incidents, and criticsm, left Akauola doubting himself. Though his job is to scatter defenders, he doesn’t want to hurt them.

“I was getting it from a lot of the coaches and it did get to me.

“I just didn’t know any better but to do that, but I spoke to Pricey (Steve Price) and he said just said keep doing what you’re doing.

“Where I get a lot of the criticism is that people with the ball are allowed to shoulder charge but not those without it.

“I find it as bracing myself and it’s different on both ends. I see it as you’re going up against two or three defenders on your own and you’re bracing yourself. That’s just my way of running.”

But Akauola is keen to point out he isn’t just dishing out the damage when he carries the ball. He inflicts it on himself too.

“There was a big collision against Hull KR a few years ago, a really big one, and I was knocked out myself. It took me a while to get back in the game.

“I don’t really remember much when I go into contact. I was speaking to a few mates the other day about concussions, I close my eyes and hope for the best, I don’t really remember the moment.

“A few times people have said to me why do you stop after running and I ask myself the same question because I don’t remember looking back or looking down or anything like that.

“In a weird way I enjoy the contact. It’s the adrenalin that rushes in you when you’re coming into contact. It’s good excitement and I do miss it, but my body doesn’t.”