Rejecting Bennett my greatest regret: Faumuina
He has written a brutally honest autobiography detailing a litany of regrets but former Kiwi Test back-rower Sione Faumuina says knocking back the chance to join Wayne Bennett at the Broncos was the greatest of them all.
Faumuina has recently released a book titled The Second Phase, the publication of which represents the next chapter in what should have been one of the most decorated rugby league careers New Zealand has ever seen.
A prodigiously talented ball-playing forward who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 101 kilograms at the height of his powers early this century, Faumuina was shown the door by the Warriors at the end of the 2006 season after a string of alcohol-related off-field incidents.
Looking for a fresh start, Faumuina met with Bennett in Brisbane but rather than join the Broncos was persuaded to take a big-money offer at North Queensland.
He played 33 games across two years for the Cowboys but that stint also ended in disgrace when he rolled his car three times and fled the scene, playing one further season with Castleford in the Super League in 2009 before retiring from top-level rugby league at 28 years of age.
Now 35, Faumuina is set to make a return with the Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup next season and starts a new job as a youth facilitator with FSG Australia on Monday but believes Bennett could have prolonged his rugby league career if he'd signed there and then.
"I told [my manager at the time] that I didn't want to go to the Cowboys," Faumuina told NRL.com.
"When I finished my meeting [with Bennett] we walked downstairs and I said, 'Let's go back up. Let's sign.'
"He told me that Wayne says that to everyone, how it is a privilege to play for the Broncos, the most recognised Australian sports team in the world and I was like, 'So?'
"I look back and that's one of the biggest regrets, was not signing and playing for Wayne.
"I believe he was a coach that could have turned my career around.
"There are guys that I made my debut around in 2001 that are only now just retiring.
"Corey [Parker] retired this year, 'Hodgo' (Justin Hodges) last year, so these are guys who we all debuted in the same year and my last year [in the NRL] was 2008.
"I really missed out on a lot."
Faumuina endured a tumultuous five years at the Warriors where unrivalled brilliance was punctuated by destructive behaviour related to alcohol abuse.
There was a high-profile relationship that brought public attention he was ill-equipped to deal with and despite numerous off-field incidents he showed no real desire to change his ways.
The meeting with Bennett was centred solely on correcting a career trajectory spiralling out of control but the master coach was typically blunt when it came to the terms of the contract.
"Wayne was straight up with it. He told me they had bugger all in their [salary] cap," Faumuina recalled.
"We hardly talked footy. All he said was that they had bugger all in the cap but at the end of the day it was whether I wanted to play for the Broncos or not.
"And I did. He sold the Broncos to me and the only reason I went to the Cowboys was for a ridiculous amount of money more than the Broncos and my agent at the time just would not stop."
Alcohol-free for the past three years and now happily settled with a young family in Brisbane's western suburbs, Faumuina admits that he wasted his considerable talent but is now eager to work with young men and women both inside rugby league and out to ensure they do not suffer a similar fate.
"I say yes that I did waste my talent purely because I knew the potential that I had," Faumuina said.
"I knew that I had a really good opportunity to be one of the greats of the Warriors while I was there... It's really tough being in your early 20s, getting good coin, being in the media.
"Everyone loves to push you and praise you when everything's going well but as soon as you have that one negative they are just as quick to turn around and bring you down.
"That was the thing that I really struggled with, the negative comments, media attention.
"Pressure to perform, that didn't bother me because I went out there and always tried my best. Win, lose or draw, I'd walk off that field and if I had a bad game then I'd try and do stuff to improve.
"It was more everything associated with being in the public eye.
"People coming up and asking for your autograph or photos, that's fine, but people expect you to be in that happy chappy mood every single time they see you. It's really hard when you're not.
"I was going through some dramas off the field and there were times where I just wanted to tell people to p*** off, but you can't."
Sione Faumuina's autobiography, The Second Phase, is out now via www.thesecondphase.co.nz and major bookstores throughout Queensland and New South Wales.