Fresh from a life changing new deal, powerful Manly back-rower Haumole Olakau’atu gives an insight into his life away from rugby league, his role as a father, to becoming a leader at the Sea Eagles.
Once described by Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans as 'the scariest man in rugby league', the 25-year-old has played 73 NRL matches for Manly after being signed by the club in 2016.
Olakau'atu played a key role in Manly winning the Holden Cup premiership in 2017 before going on to make his NRL debut two years later for the Sea Eagles.
Haumole, can you believe how far you have come since 2016?
“It’s crazy to think back on that time. I signed with Manly after one U20s trial match. Coach Wayne Lambkin was pretty strict on me, seeing I hadn’t played any junior rep footy and I was just jumping straight in. He told me to be as professional as I can but also at the same time, enjoy every moment and have fun. I have always carried that with me. To achieve what we did in 2017 was amazing. We just made the top eight and it was sudden death footy. To make the grand final, and win it, was unbelievable. I’ve changed a lot, physically and mentally, since then. I’ve gone from a tall, skinny 103kg back-rower to the, I guess now, a strongly built 111kg forward.
Your parents moved from Tonga to Australia in 1997 for a better life. As the eldest of five children, how much did it mean for you to buy them their first family home this year?
Growing up, I saw how hard my Dad worked as a concreter to support my Mum and us five kids. He has always had a huge work ethic, and that's where I get mine from. Buying that house meant so much. It’s very satisfying. Just seeing my old man being able to come home from work now and relax in the lounge room in his own home is very heartwarming. Now that I am a father, it's been a big eye opener for me. Like my Dad did, I have to provide for my partner, Ana, and our one-year-old son, Ofa. It’s about being accountable and being committed. I hope my son grows up to be half the man my father is."
How do you judge your own performances each week when you review your game. Do you go off stats and certain goals?
“To be honest, I just flick through the replay of the game and get to my parts (laughs). I don't watch the whole game. I like to see what I can do better and how to fix errors in my game. But at the end of the day, nothing matters more than my partner’s opinion. Whatever Ana says, I have got to go with it (laughs). If I have a very good game, she says I played average. And if I have an average game, she says I played absolutely terrible. It’s never a good game, it’s always just above average. She is very tough. My Dad is not that tough. She is the only person (in my family) that can be honest with me, though, and I respect that.
You've been touted as a future NSW player. Manly Coach Anthony Seibold said if you play Origin, it means you are playing consistent footy. How much of a focus is that?
It’s nice to hear those comments from ‘Seibs’ but I still want to improve. I need to be more consistent. I’m a big believer of whatever you do during the week, both on and off the field, that it will apply to your game day performance. You can’t just go half arse at training and expect to play your best because it simply doesn’t work.”
'Seibs' also talked about how you have grown over the past year to now display leadership qualities. How does that sit?
“I feel like I have worked really hard to be where I am now within this team. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement. I still look at the senior boys like Daly Cherry-Evans, Jake Trbojevic, Josh Aloiai, Toff Sipley, and Tom Trbojevic as my leaders.
You return to pre-season training next week after playing for Tonga in England. How is the body, and what excites you about next season at Manly?
“There has been some really good signings in Luke Brooks, Tommy Talau, and Jaxson Paulo. I’m excited to play alongside ‘Brooksy’. I feel like with Daly being the main half, ‘Brooksy’ will be able to play his natural running game more freely than in the past. My body is feeling good and I can’t wait to get back into it. I feel we are building towards something special. We have got some very good depth and some very talented players. I really want to win a premiership with Manly and bring the trophy back to the Northern Beaches. I want a premiership ring. That’s what we play for.”
Haumole and his partner, Ana Ilavalu, have been together for five years after meeting through church. We asked her for an insight into life at home with her devoted man.
"Haumole has always been a mature guy. He is pretty much straight forward, is humble, and very caring. He respects his parents and loves kids. He is a very good Dad. Spending time with Ofa is his escape from footy. He will play a game, come home, and wake up the next morning not even sore and just play with him. As for having more kids, Haumole has given me the numbers (laughs). I just tell him let’s enjoy Ofa, who has just turned one. Whenever we have a medical check up with Ofa, they always says he's a big boy. I just say, have you seen his Dad?"