Auckland's best looks for second NRL chance
After turning down a shot at a Telstra Premiership career two years ago, Raymond Talimalie is on the verge of a second chance after being named the best player in the Auckland club competition.
The clear winner of Auckland Rugby League's Player of the Year award at last Wednesday's ceremony, Talimalie is in his second year back in the region's first division competition after spending the back end of 2013 with the Melbourne Storm's Holden Cup side.
But despite making a handful of NYC appearances that year, Talimalie made the tough decision to walk away from the Melbourne opportunity and return to New Zealand, following wife Leitu's mother being diagnosed with cancer.
"We didn't want to miss out on anything with Leitu's mum. I knew I was still young and I knew there were still chances out there," Talimalie told NRL.com.
Playing for his club side, the Mangere East Hawks, the 21-year-old took his game to new levels this season with more dedication to gym work and his diet at home.
"I have spent the majority of my extra time in the gym and doing more training, and also watching more league footage now and then," he said.
"The biggest difference has been in my mobility, just working my way around the field and stuff like that.
"I didn't trial with the Warriors' NSW Cup side, but after my representative games with the Counties Manukau Stingrays [in New Zealand's national premiership] last year, my coach Rod Ratu gave me a random call telling me that Stacey Jones wanted me to come and do pre-season with his side."
After becoming a father at 18 to daughter Xiaoyu, now three, Talimalie balances footy with a day job as a forklift operator, joking that "It allows me to save my feet for training and on the field".
He said it had been a surreal experience playing under his childhood hero.
"Stacey has been my idol ever since I was young," Talimalie said.
"I have always looked up to him and it's a privilege and an honour to be under his coaching.
"Everyone talks about Stacey, even all of my family, and just the way he was, a small player but one who could do everything.
"Stacey hasn't had a proper word with me yet, but he said he is going to work with me now and then now that I have got my chances in the squad.
"Something I have already picked from him is probably just about keeping the standards and being professional on and off the field."
While Jones speaks of a raw prospect who has something every good no.7 needs; confidence.
"When we bring local players in obviously they have got some sort of talent and Raymond certainly showed that last season," Jones said.
"I thought on the weekend he showed some really good signs, he just needs to probably control a bit of his temper, but he has got a lot of confidence about him which I really like.
"You need that as a half - he has things he really needs to work on if he wants to go to the next level, like his kicking game - but he has got a voice, is a tough defender and a real competitive.
"Let him work on the fundamentals like kicking and passing and that will make him take the next step."
This Saturday Talimalie will make his third start at halfback for the Warriors' NSW Cup side, running out in their week one finals match against minor premiers Mounties.