Matt Encarnacion,, Big League
Wide-eyed, screaming and frantically searching for an elusive black marker, some kid swore he had finally stumbled upon his hero. This was the day he’d been waiting for. The tale of all tales. He’d be king of the school on Monday.
After all, it’s not every day you see a T-Rex.
“Oh, people mistake me for him all the time,” laughs Manly rookie Jorge Taufua.
“Kids come up to me all the time and shout ‘T-Rex! Could you sign this for me?’ It’s always either Stevie [Matai], Joey [Galuvao] or Tony. I always have to let them down and say, ‘Sorry, but I’m not T-Rex.’ But they still think I’m him.”
It’s been the story of 2012 for Manly’s biggest unknown since “Out of the Blue”. The umpteenth Eels reject who had been spanked with two wooden spoons in the Toyota Cup for the past two seasons. Last year it was with a disappointing Manly side, and the year before that it was alongside NRL graduates Ryan Morgan, Ken Sio, Jacob Loko, Rory Brien and Pat O’Hanlon in Parramatta.
“Kenny was our best player when we got the wooden spoon that year. He’s the reason why I still watch Parra’, him and Loko. They’re two of my best mates. Ken deserves all the accolades he’s getting now,” Taufua says.
What moreso then, for the kid who’s made Will Hopoate, an Origin star, and the loss of another Grand Final hero, Michael Robertson, a distant memory?
In just his 21st NRL game last week, Taufua almost single-handledly destroyed Des Hasler and his Bulldogs in the Qualifying Final, running a season-high 245 metres and crashing through a weekend-high 14 tackles.
Let’s put this into context. The most his prehistoric doppelganger has ever busted in his career is 11.
Yet the resemblance between the NSW forward and his fellow Parramatta junior is uncanny. Both are over six-foot. Both weigh more than 100 kilograms. And both began their careers roaming the sidelines.
The story of how the Eels discarded Williams, now a Kangaroo representative, is of rugby league folklore. So needless to say that when a prototype of one of the biggest stars they let go landed on their doorstep, they shoved him into the forward pack quick-smart.
But the experiment, so they deemed, had failed. And yet another Parramatta junior – the fourth on Manly’s books (not including former Eel Jamie Lyon) – was ushered to the northern beaches. And the Sea Eagles are, once again, reaping the benefits.
“[Parramatta] didn’t exactly give me the flick, people have different views on it,” Taufua explains. “My friends think I shouldn’t have played where they played me. Said I wasn’t that kind of player. It’s not as though we left on bad terms or anything.
“But I know T-Rex started on the wing and now he’s killing it. I know the club thinks I’ll end up in the forwards, too. But I tried that at Parra’ and I wasn’t good at it. It’s probably why I didn’t last long there. They chucked me in the back row but it was the worst. I was no good.
“I didn’t hate it, but I’ve always been an edge player. It isn’t my style.”
Taufua won seven games in two years of the Toyota Cup. He matched that number in just his 11th appearance in the NRL, a stage he never thought he’d share with the defending premiers for at least another season, if at all.
“When my manager told me I had a full-time training contract with a team that had just won the premiership, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t,” he says. “I didn’t expect to get a shot this year at all. But I did a couple of warm-ups with them in the first couple of rounds as 18th man, and once I got my shot all I wanted to do was enough to keep it.
“It’s been a big step, but this first year for me is all about learning. It’s easy to get caught up in how successful this team is. It’s a great team to be a part of, but I’m just grateful and humbled just to train with them and learn from them.
“They’ve got a good, stable, experienced group. People like Jamie Lyon, Jason King, Brent Kite… they’ve been around a long time and know what they’re doing. I just learn off them every week.”
For the moment, Taufua is the western Sydney kid who often takes the nightmarish, two-hour one-way trip from Blacktown to Narrabeen with Joe Galuvao on buses, ferries, trains and other automobiles.
So, in the summer, a move to the northern beaches beckons. And maybe, just maybe, someone might recognise him for who he is.
“No one’s heard of me this year. I’ve read a lot of stuff about how I’m this unknown to everyone. And to be honest, I like it like that. I don’t like the limelight,” he says.
“But it’d be good to make a name for myself, for people to know who I am. I represent my family, my mum. And I want to make them proud.”