'Phenomenal' Taukeiaho just getting started
Roosters revelation Sio Siua Taukeiaho's blinding on-field form is partly down to the fact the 23-year-old Aucklander is feeling more relaxed and confident in challenging himself to leave his comfort zone.
That is the assessment of senior Roosters forward Sam Moa, who spoke in glowing terms of the powerful young lock forward, while Taukeiaho himself said some guidance from the leaders at the club had helped him settle in and flourish after originally not knowing anyone in Sydney when he first made the jump across from New Zealand at the end of 2013.
"Siua's an absolute monster at the moment and it's very good to see him playing the football he's always had the ability to play. It's amazing what a bit of confidence can do to a player," Moa said this week.
"He's been absolutely phenomenal for us, Siua, right from when he turned up to the club he had an exceptional motor on him. For someone so powerful and so agile, he was supremely fit and he's always been one of our best trainers in the pre-season but he just lacked that bit of confidence.
"You can tell he didn't feel like he was part of the squad when he first turned up. After a couple of games and getting to mix and mingle with the guys and feel like he was part of the NRL team his football flourished on the end of that. Confidence is an amazing thing and he's starting to display that in spades now."
Taukeiaho praised the culture at the club as well as the help given to him by senior players and fellow New Zealanders in Moa, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and even fellow young-gun Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
"I've built my connection, especially with the leaders at the club and it's going awesome this year. Getting the help from them and the support from them has helped me a lot, especially with my footy," Taukeiaho told NRL.com.
"The culture at the club is real awesome... To see all the boys happy every week and mixing around and catching up after games and having breakfast in the morning after a win, it's awesome. The vibe is good."
He said the support of the senior players had helped build his confidence. "The words they give me, telling me what I need to work on motivates me and helps me become a better player. With them around me and taking me under their wing it's an important thing for me, I need it," he said.
Taukeiaho was something of an unfamiliar name to many rugby league fans when named on Trent Robinson's bench to face the Cowboys for his club debut in Round 1 this year, despite having played a solitary NRL game for the Warriors in 2013.
Since then he has gone on to play every single game so far this year and his performances have been such that his name is known to virtually all rugby league fans, even if most would still be hard-pressed to spell it.
Taukeiaho has played limited minutes, largely off the bench, but still averaged 116 metres per game and is making more than 11 metres per run, regularly bending the opposition line back with ferocious runs that scatter defenders and require multiple men to slow him down. He's made a busy 25.5 tackles per game in those limited minutes too, breaking 44 tackles of his own along the way.
"Mate, I can't give enough praise to Siua Taukeiaho... he inspires me on the field when we're down and he gets one of those carries," Roosters prop Dylan Napa said.
"He's one of those players where if he doesn't want to get tackled he won't get tackled. Sometimes I'm screaming from the sideline 'just get the ball, just run'. Against the Tigers I said 'get a carry get a carry' and he made a break.
"I know how it feels on the sidelines so you can only imagine what it feels like being next to him when he does that."
Moa said Taukeiaho still had plenty of improvement in him.
"He's only very young but he's got a very good head on his shoulders and as an athlete he's very impressive," Moa said.
"When we need something from Siua, or Isaac [Liu] is a bit of a 'beast mode' as well, I don't know if I've come across two more powerfully built athletes. They're fast and agile and when we need a big play we do the easy job of handing them the ball and seeing them run as hard as they can and we jump on the back of it."
Moa said the shy and softly spoken Taukeiaho's improvement came once he realised he needed to take himself out of his comfort zone in terms of his interactions with teammates and start to open up.
"He's done a bit of work with Jared [Waerea-Hargreaves]. Once he realised when he went out of his comfort zone and started to open up to us he was going to get that in return and he has," Moa said.
"He's starting to be one of the jokers now and give a bit of crap to a few of the boys and that comes with the territory and feeling part of the team. He's only going to get better."
Taukeiaho said he still stays quiet at training but has grown in terms of sharing a laugh off the field.
"I just stick to myself, come into training, get training over and done with and go home, I don't really talk much. Maybe over lunch when we get together is the only time I talk. When it comes to training I like to stay focused," Taukeiaho said.
That focus has been paying off in spades; Taukeiaho made his Test debut for Tonga, the country of his parents, in the Pacific Test earlier in the year but makes no secret of his desire to one day wear the black and white of his native New Zealand.
"Hopefully I get a call up for the end of the year tour and if I don't there's always next year and the years to come. I'm not really focused on that at the moment, all I'm worried about is Roosters and hopefully getting that premiership."