The page that changed Pangai's path
It's only a small passage in Wayne Bennett's first book but it has the potential to change Tevita Pangai Junior's life forever.
On page 64 of 'Don't Die With The Music In You' in a chapter titled 'Who Do You Listen To?', Bennett writes about a letter he once received from a former player of promise who walked away from the game at a young age.
"The guy explained how his coach had told him certain things he knew to be right, but he instead listened to others contradicting what the coach had told him," Bennett writes.
"The coach had told him he was a good footballer but he had to be patient… Others told him he was better than good already, so in Lord's name, why wasn't he playing in the top grade?
"He walked away from the game at age 20, kicking the ground instead of a football."
For Pangai, a two-time Junior Kangaroo who had dominated the National Youth Competition for three years, the words rang so true that he decided to ring Bennett to seek his advice.
It took three months to work up the courage to actually dial the master coach's number but when he did his life changed in a matter of moments.
"My best mate is [Knights player] Sione Mata'utia so he just told me to give him a ring and see what I thought," Pangai told NRL.com of his fateful phone call.
"I was just calling up for some advice and then he offered me to come here and that he would get me here as quick as he could and I haven't looked back.
"I read his book and he spoke about a boy who had some people telling him when he should be playing first grade and then he gave the game up so I thought I was in that same situation.
"I was only 19, still young for a front-rower, so I just thought I'd give him a ring. I told him that I didn't want to be that same kid in the book who gave the game away because people kept telling him he should be in first grade."
It's not Bennett's way to guarantee a young player a spot in first grade sight unseen but after starting the season in Brisbane's under-20s team and quickly transferring that form to the Intrust Super Cup with Souths Logan the giant forward was given that which he most craved in Round 13; a start in the NRL.
It wasn't until Joseph Tapine was released by the Knights to join Canberra in late February that Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was prepared to let Pangai leave the nation's capital but the 20-year-old is grateful for his former coach's understanding.
"I just wasn't happy," said Pangai.
"Me and Ricky are still good friends and still keep in contact but I just needed a change and 'Sticky' knew that and that's why he gave me a release.
"He knew I'd be better off coming up here.
"I was a bit disappointed that I hadn't played NRL yet down in Canberra. I had a few family issues and I thought it would help me off the field to become a better person and on the field a better player.
"[Bennett] has been giving me a lot of tough love but he's helping me off the field a lot. Trying to get me to do more stuff around the community and keep my mind off footy.
"I'll go to schools with James Roberts on our days off and go and help Indigenous kids or kids who haven't got their attendance up to scratch. So we'll talk to them and try and get them up above 90 per cent. Little programs like that."
And having been convinced by Mata'utia to make a single phone call Pangai has now played a significant role in convincing older brother Moses to join him at Red Hill in 2017.
After making his NRL debut at the Cowboys in 2012 Moses had stints at the Panthers, Wests Tigers and Raiders but Tevita is convinced that like him, the Intrust Super Cup's Centre of the Year in 2016 will find his home at the Broncos.
"He had a few clubs offering but I just gave him some advice," Tevita said.
"Wayne was pretty keen on bringing him here too so I just told him that he would probably get the best out of him.
"He's had a bit of a journey in his career and I just said that I thought he would settle in with Wayne here."
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