Big advantage: The rise of Kasiano

Having once walked away from the game because he was too big, Sam Kasiano has discovered the perfect mix of size and skill.

It was a sunny day in Brisbane when Peter Mulholland first noticed Sam Kasiano. The then Bulldogs recruitment guru was passing his eye over the talent at Norths Devils and, as you’d expect from a kid who grew up to be Kasiano’s current size, there was something about him that stood out.

“When I first saw him, I just couldn’t believe how big he was,” says Mulholland, now scouting the Hunter for future stars for Wayne Bennett’s Knights. “He’s just enormous… he’s a big human being. And for a big man he had great feet at that time.

“After watching him play up there I invited him down for a trial in September 2009. He played so well, he was so dominant in that game against Wests Tigers. We did the deal that night. He wasn’t getting back on that plane without it.”

Mulholland’s disbelief that no one in Queensland had noticed the talent in the young man was quickly chalked up as the Bulldogs’ gain.

“He’d been in their system for a few years and no one had paid any attention to him. I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “He was just a specimen. There was a lot of work that had to be done. He was a little bit sloppy. You could understand that, being a big man, and he was still a kid. But just the potential to grow was enormous. What he did on the field that night was tremendous.”

Born in Auckland, Kasiano picked up league as a youngster before giving it up for a few years because of the awkward size advantage he had over his peers. But a move to Brisbane in his teens reignited his love for the game, and a contract with the Bulldogs brought him under the tutelage of club trainer Garry Carden, who Mulholland credits for Kasiano bursting onto the scene the way that he has.

“We didn’t teach him anything, everything he does is natural,” says Mulholland. “He’s confident. Size is a big factor in that. A big part of his development has been no one else but Garry Carden. Garry’s the one who shaped him into what he is physically. We had to take the weight off him, strip him down and build him up again.”

Kasiano popped straight into the Toyota Cup in 2010, playing 22 games and killing it with an average of 150m per game and a total of 83 tackle-breaks. The ’Dogs knew they had something special but as his coach that year Andy Patmore explains, it was the structures at the club that helped mould Kasiano into a mature person on and off the field.

“His first year for us he was very raw, so we had to work on little skill things and a bit of discipline in everyday life,” Patmore says. “He was a bit loose – that’s probably the best way to put it – and he worked really hard with that. On the field, it was a matter of when to bring in the ball-playing and when not to do it. He wanted to play touch football all the time.

“The skills were always there; the hardest part of the learning process is when to try and when not to try, and when to just hold the ball and do the hard work. His fitness levels for a massive man are unbelievable. His cardio ability is off the scale as far as his size goes. That was evident. He was playing long minutes for a big, big man.”

In the process of getting Kasiano ready for first grade, Patmore learned the secret to keeping the gentle giant on the straight and narrow.

“We found the secret to him was always talking to mum,” he says. “Mum was the person in the family to speak to if Sam was having a bit of hassle in life, and she’s been fantastic over the years.

“In his last contract negotiation it wasn’t so much his manager we dealt with, it was more his mum. She was happy with what we offered on and off the field, about Sam’s growing up in life and footy.

“He was certainly offered more money to go elsewhere but his mum was very happy with the support systems we have in place. It’s been really good for him. We’ve had some ups and downs with him but he has been exceptional.”

The best part of this story is that the 196cm, 122kg Kasiano is only really a pup but is playing with the confidence of a veteran forward, which Patmore credits to his relaxed personality.

“I don’t think he’d ever worry about nerves or anything like that. He just drifts along with life and enjoys footy, enjoys playing games. That’s to his advantage.”