Forget his team-mate’s impersonation of him, cult Parramatta Eels prop Fuifui Moimoi is only just now showing the rugby league world that he is capable of fulfilling his enormous potential.
Shane Shackleton might sound like him, and kind of look like him, but it definitely isn’t him.
Doesn’t do a bad job, though.
“I was kind of upset when I [first] watched it,” says Fuifui Moimoi of his team-mate’s impersonation. “But it was pretty funny so I got excited.
“When he tries to talk like me, it’s like me! I don’t know how he does it, but it’s pretty funny.”
And while the dreads and the undeniable Tongan accent might have earned the comedic Eels red-head a regular gig alongside another iconic carrot top in Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin on Channel Nine’s “The Footy Show” this year, the real Fuifui Moimoi has quietly grown beyond his cult hero status at Parramatta over the past few years.
His odyssey first began with the infamous jibe of, “Fuifui play 10 minutes, Fuifui train 10 minutes,” when at South Sydney in 2003. “I remember saying that to Paul Langmack back in the day,” he recalls with a smile, before remembering the shameless 20-minute stints earlier in his career to the more famous “Fuuuui!” roar that echoes around Parramatta Stadium these days.
“I can’t really hear it when I’m playing. It’s good for me, though, it pumps me up when I get out on the field,” he says.
But while the roar that sounds like boos still exists today, the raw bookend does not.
The Fuifui legend was thought to have reached its peak during Parramatta’s fabled run to the 2009 Grand Final, however the arrival of Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney last season delivered a rebranded prop; one that produced a Paul Gallen-like 78-minute performance for the first time in his career and who was honoured with both the club’s Ken Thornett Player of the Year award and the Jack Gibson NRL Coach’s Award, the first time in Eels history that a player had won both awards in the same year.
“[Kearney] helped me a lot to get up quick off the ground and to get back to the line quick,” Moimoi says. “It’s the little things that have helped me. He pretty much told me I was too slow. He’s pretty funny, ‘Mooks’ [Kearney]. I’ve worked with him in the Kiwis and I’ve known him for a while. He’s easygoing, easy to talk to and he’s helped me a lot in my career.”
His 133 metres and 22 tackles per game last season were both career-high numbers, a product of his hard work on the training paddock. As Moimoi found out some 10 years later, the longer and harder you train, the longer and harder you play.
“[Last year’s form] came from extra training and doing the little things with the team,” says the 32-year-old. “I realise now that the harder you train and do extra training and do all the little things, you become a better player.”
This Friday night’s game against the Broncos marks the beginning of Moimoi’s ninth season in the NRL. Off contract at the end of the year, there is speculation he could retire alongside fellow Eels Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt.
But having been reinvigorated under Kearney in both Parramatta and Kiwi colours, Moimoi insists he has at least one more season left in him. And his inclusion in the past three Four Nations campaigns in the black and white has him primed for one final assault on the international stage at the 2013 World Cup. If not, then at least with his native Tonga.
“[Playing for New Zealand] is one of my goals for next year. But there are some young players coming up for the Kiwis now who are more important than me. If I don’t get the chance to play for the Kiwis, I’ll play for Tonga.”
Negotiations about his future will begin during the next few months with new Eels CEO Bob Bentley, and Moimoi is keeping an open mind.
“I’m just going year by year at the moment because it depends how my body feels. At the moment my body’s telling me I can probably go another two, three or even four years.”
Besides, if his captain, who has some 300-plus games and 11,000 tackles to his name looks like he can go on, why can’t he? Then there’s 36-year-old Petero Civoniceva continuing to defy the ageing process.
“And I should [outlast] them because they started out younger than me,” Moimoi adds with a laugh.