For powerhouse Roosters forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala, a recent two-year contract extension, tying him to the club until the end of 2015, is as much about providing payback as it is earning a pay cheque. Without the intervention of the Bondi-based club, Nuuausala says ahead of his side’s blockbuster clash with Cronulla on Saturday night, he could very well be behind bars.
“The reason why I stayed here is because when I came over from New Zealand I was 18 and they gave me a chance,” Frank-Paul, discarded by then-Warriors coach Ivan Cleary, tells NRL.com.
“I got caught up in the wrong crowd – in my neighbourhood, I grew up in South Auckland, we’ve got a stigma about gangs, we’re not a rich community, our education’s not that good and the only path I was leading into was being a gangster or living off the dole.
“The Roosters brought me over here – I struggled for two or three years, had a chip on my shoulder… it took me three or four years to snap out of it and finally just turn my career and my life around.”
Now a part of the leadership group at the Roosters and, as he freely admits, a better person on and off the field, Frank-Paul ‘The Wrecking Ball’ feels he owes the club a debt of gratitude – in particular assistant coach and former back-rower Craig Fitzgibbon.
“In 2009 ‘Fitzy’ took me underneath his wing and said ‘Come follow me, I’ll look after you’,” Nuuausala, whose parents live in Samoa on a banana and taro plantation, says.
“Fitzy showed me it’s alright to talk to people, open up and show your feelings – you can’t be the hard one all the time. Eventually over time I learnt to trust people and talk more. I hardly talk but if I need to say something I’ll do it.
“If you talk to people around the club, I used to have a bad attitude and I wouldn’t open up. I wouldn’t open up to you now if you’d have seen me a few years ago. It was just taking an opportunity and it just changed my life. I could’ve been in a jail cell or just be bumming and drinking at home.
“I won’t forget my roots in South Auckland and New Zealand, but the Roosters and Australia are my home now and I love this place. It means a lot to me because I came over as a kid and now I’m becoming a man.”
An intensely tough character on the field, Nuuausala says the most difficult part of his life at present isn’t taking on a big opposition pack or the thought of embarking on another arduous pre-season at Bondi Junction. He, however, chokes back tears at the mention of his family across the ditch, particularly his wheelchair-bound brother, John.
“I’ve got seven sisters and five brothers – there are 13 of us – and they’re a big part of me. It’s always hard but that’s my motivation, keeping them proud and making sure I’m not letting them down,” Nuuausala, whose family-dedicated tattoos adorn his body, says.
“They’re always in the back of my head. It’s hard, I call [Sydney] home but I visit them twice or three times a year – as much as I can… I miss them but I feel safer here and my head’s always screwed on while I’m here.
“I wish I could bring my little brother over who’s in a wheelchair but he needs a carer. Hopefully I can find a house that doesn’t have stairs – I’m looking for a place this year that’s level so he can come visit Australia for the first time in his life.
“In 2011 I went home and they said he was in intensive care. He was just kicking with my nephew and he slipped and his disc in his back just slipped. The next two weeks he didn’t feel his legs then he called my mum and I saw him in intensive care, they had to rush him in and operate on him and they said he died for 30 minutes – he died for 30 minutes and he came back. I told him to fight for me because I don’t want him to leave. I’m thankful he’s still alive.
“I can’t take things for granted, just like walking or going to the toilet. That’s in the back of my head and my motivation too – I wouldn’t wish what happened to him on my worst enemy. I get teary just thinking about it.”
This year, Nuuausala’s using all that motivation and his undoubted talent to have arguably his best season on the field in years. After debuting as a front-rower in 2007, Frank-Paul is now mostly a back-rower – and his stats (three line-break assists, two try assists and 74 metres per game) show he’s complementing his committed running with creative ball play. He mightn’t be attracting the headlines of Sonny Bill Williams, but rest assured Nuuausala’s a big part of the Roosters’ success so far this season, too. Currently second on the ladder, Nuuausala’s high-flying Chooks are strong challengers for the 2013 title.
This week, though, the in-form Cronulla Sharks are between them and two more competition points – and Frank-Paul is wary.
“We always have tough games with the Sharkies… they’re a tough team and they always play well against us,” he says.
“We just need to come into the game with a good attitude and stick with what we’ve been working at – being consistent with our attack and ‘D’ – and hopefully get the win, but I know the Sharks will be up for it. And they’ve got an awesome forward pack, too.
“I’m just incredibly grateful to be a part of this great Roosters club and get a second chance.
“Talent doesn’t get you far – being successful in life is all about hard work.”