When it comes to making sacrifices for his family, Taniela Paseka knows where his inspiration lies.
He only needs to think of his late father, Leone, and wrap his arms around his one-year-old son, Carter.
“My Dad would do anything for his kids. He loved us so much,’’ Taniela said.
"That’s the main lesson I’ve taken from Dad. And I will do anything for my son. Whatever he needs, I will do it for Carter.”
At just 24 years of age, Taniela is thriving on fatherhood.
It’s what drives the hulking Manly prop to become not only a better NRL player, but a quality young man, after experiencing a tough childhood from a young age.
One of seven children, Taniela was born in Otahuhu, New Zealand. The Paseka family moved to Australia to seek treatment for his mum, Ana, in her battle against breast cancer.
“I always thought we would be going home. By coming to Australia, Mum would be alright but she passed away not long after we arrived. I was five,’’ Taniela recalled.
“My Dad worked hard to keep my three brothers and sisters together. He didn’t know much English.
When Mum passed, we didn’t have a home to live in. We were split up, we lived with different aunties.Taniela Paseka
“I lived with one aunty and brother, and my other brother and sisters lived with another aunty. My other brother was adopted in America.
“Dad eventually found a job in Smithfield in Sydney's west. He rented a house for the six of us to live together in as a family again under the one roof.
“That’s where I pretty much started my childhood.”
A late bloomer to rugby league, Taniela remembers his first game for the Canley Heights Dragons.
“I was 10 years old. I didn’t know anything about rugby league,’’ he laughed.
“All the coach said to me was to run straight because I was big. That’s all I did, run straight. There was no side stepping like I do now.”
Secondary education saw Taniela attend three schools - Westfield Sports High, Mt Carmel High, and Fairfield Patrician Brothers.
At 18, Taniela achieved his first representative jersey in the NSW U20s team through his former club, Wests Tigers. It was in the rep camp where he first met current Manly team-mates Lachlan Croker and Reuben Garrick.
“I never made any representative teams before then. I was thinking I wasn’t good enough and maybe I needed to find something else to do,’’ Taniela said.
“When I first started playing U20s at the Tigers, I was playing for fun. I wasn’t really playing because I thought I could make it in the NRL.
“I couldn’t believe it when I was told I made the U20s Blues team. It opened up an opportunity for me.”
Manly Recruitment Officer Scott Fulton liked what he saw in the raw young prop and signed him to the Sea Eagles for 2017.
His sheer height and strength was evident as he developed his trade in a Manly team that took out the U20s competition that year.
By April 2018, Taniela made his NRL debut against the Tigers. It was a very special moment for Leone.
Sadly, Leone passed away last February from a heart attack, aged 58, but not before enjoying plenty of quality time with his grandson.
Seeing Taniela happy and settled on the Northern Beaches with his ‘soulmate’ Kobi meant the world to Leone.
It was that balance lifestyle that also led to Taniela producing his finest season in 2021, where some very damaging runs in his 24 games for Manly signalled his arrival in the NRL.
The 197cm, 121 kilogram prop has now played 68 NRL matches for the Sea Eagles after turning down an opportunity to join the Indianapolis Colts NFL Club's International Pathway program in 2019.
And throughout his NRL career, Taniela has carried his parents with him, writing their names on his wristbands – another little inspiration to remind him of his journey.
It’s that strong family connection has now seen Taniela start his own tradition, bringing Carter onto the field to enjoy a post-match victory.
“When I see Carter after a game, I can’t stop smiling. It’s such a cool feeling to enjoy the moment with your son,’’ Taniela said.
“I like to show him where I work and spend most of my time, so he will be used to when he gets older.
“Fatherhood is everything to me. I want to be that father who is always there for his children. That’s how I want to be.”