Stocky Samoan centre Tafeaga Sa’u can’t wait to step foot onto Centrebet Stadium on Saturday night. Even if he’s not too familiar with the country itself, the man they call ‘Junior’ – a nine-time New Zealand Test player – is elated to finally represent his family.
“It means a lot,” Sa’u, whose parents are from Lauli’i and Apolima, tells NRL.com.
“Representing where your parents are from, it doesn’t become a job it becomes an honour to put on that blue jersey. Not only are you representing your parents but you’re representing the whole of Samoa.”
Sa’u, who debuted for the Knights in 2008 before making his way to Melbourne at the start of this season, says the Samoan way of life as he knows it is all about sharing and caring.
“As a Samoan, we’re all about respect – respecting the elders no matter if they’re right or wrong,” Sa’u says.
“That’s the main thing – setting a good example for our people. We’re growing up to love one another and not get big-headed when we do achieve success.”
That Samoan respect, however, could be thrown out the window on the bus trip to Penrith’s home ground on Saturday. The Samoans are ready for a torrid tussle with Island rivals Tonga. Both teams possess a raft of NRL stars with significant top-level experience, and Sa’u says the future is particularly bright for Samoan Rugby League.
“Yeah, definitely [the future looks positive],” Sa’u says. “We’ve got a lot of talent that’s playing in the NRL at the moment. It’s just about who they want to play for. The majority choose to play for New Zealand, but for us blokes coming back and representing the country where our mum and dad were born… hopefully in the next five years a lot of people can get the opportunity to play for Samoa.”
Sa’u is one of a handful of former Kiwis – including Sika Manu, Fuifui Moimoi, Eddy Pettybourne and Roy Asotasi – who have changed their international allegiances in this World Cup year. You mightn’t have recognised Tafeaga Sa’u in his New Zealand playing days of 2009 and 2010, though – he was, after all, playing under a different name!
“My name’s always been Tafeaga Junior Sa’u – the middle name’s Junior – but my first name, I’m named after my dad,” Sau reveals of the time he was referred to as ‘Junior’.
“Part of it was my fault! I got the call from my old man and he goes, ‘You’ve got to put your real name on there!’ and I said okay. So we’ll roll with that this year.”
Sa’u said his desire to be known as Junior began in his, ahem, junior days – when the majority of locals had difficulties pronouncing it correctly. (For the record, Tafeaga is pronounced: Tah-feh-unnga.)
“It was sort of hard to sort of explain to a lot of people,” Sa’u says.
“I sort of just gave up, and said ‘just call me Junior’.”