Tuqiri comes full circle
The year 2000 saw the greatest Olympics of all time come to Sydney, the GST reared its head and a fresh-faced 21-year-old winger won an NRL premiership with the Brisbane Broncos.
His name was Lote Tuqiri and 14 years on the South Sydney veteran has come full circle– and we're not just talking about his hair – to take his place in the Rabbitohs’ first grand final in 43 years this Sunday.
With Tuqiri coming into first grade the year prior to play with the likes of Shane Webcke, Gorden Tallis and Darren Lockyer, the 35-year-old will now gear up for perhaps his final game in the NRL with fellow three-quarters Alex Johnston (aged 19), Kirisome Auva'a (22) and Dylan Walker (20).
As the dual international looks back on his only NRL grand final appearance, Tuqiri admits he does see himself within his three rookie teammates still in their formative years of top grade footy.
With the oldest player in the competition transforming from novice to mentor, the former Kangaroo, Wallaby and Fiji international can now further appreciate the advice from his veteran Broncos teammates that came before him.
"I actually said to [the younger boys] a couple of weeks ago that you don't get these opportunities to play in such good teams and you have to take all these opportunities you can get," Tuqiri told NRL.com.
"I have stressed these things don't come around too often. We're here now and I guess we have to take it.
"These guys are... about to hit their peak. With Brisbane I came into a team that was full of unbelievable talent. I was the young guy coming through to play with Steve Renouf, Allan Langer and Kevvy Walters.
"Now with these guys at the Rabbitohs, they all have the potential to play for Australia and it is exciting."
Tuqiri speaks with great delight of his young teammates especially his centre partner Walker, who only just reached the second decade of life on the weekend, labelling him the "busiest centre" he's ever played with.
"It is what sets him (Walker) apart from other guys I've played with," Tuqiri explains. "He pops up on parts of the field you wouldn't think he would.
"He has great footwork and he is only going to get better with age. He... has a lot of potential and he is certainly fulfilling it – not the finished product – but he is well on his way."
While 14 years between appearances will no doubt skew the memory, Tuqiri is happy to revisit his former glory with the winger ultimately recognising a similar hype around Brisbane all those years ago.
"It is certainly sinking in now [I'm playing] with all the hype that surrounds the event," Tuqiri said.
"It is a lot like up in Brisbane, they were hyped. I just remember enjoying the week. We didn't train as hard as we did obviously but there was a lot of fanfare with the supporters in the lead up."
With professionalism in rugby league clearly growing exponentially in the past decade and a half since, Tuqiri believes everyone at the Rabbitohs, including his younger teammates will be primed for the decider.
"There is a good culture here of getting the job done. We won't be too big-headed about it all because we're all pretty switched on," Tuqiri said.
With Tuqiri rolling with the mantra he carried back at the turn of the millennium, the Rabbitohs are certainly excited for the coming week.