When Tevita “Junior” Tatola co-captained the Wests Tigers under-20s team in 2016, the Holy Cross junior appeared on track to play first grade for the black, white and golds.
But as fate would have it, the front rower chalked up his 100th NRL game against his former club on Saturday night in his fifth season for Souths Sydney.
One word can be used to describe Tatola’s tenure in the top grade: consistency.
You can most weeks jot him down for 40 to 50 minutes per game, 100-plus running metres and 30-odd tackles without many misses.
It’s no surprise in his milestone game that stat-line rang true again.
In his unassuming way he was last out of the tunnel but made the first two tackles of the game.
It formed part of typical tradesman-like 25-minute opening stint that included no miss tackles or errors and 41-post contact metres in a period where the Wests Tigers dominated possession.
At 25, Tatola is still only on his front row ‘L’ plates and yet he has already drawn high praise from those within the club.
In a tribute video to celebrate his milestone, former Souths captain John Sutton said Tatola is growing into one of the “premier front-rowers”. Current skipper Cameron Murray described him as one of the “most damaging forwards” on his day and hooker Damien Cook said he “doesn’t shy away from anything”.
His return in the second half coincided with South re-taking the lead as injuries began to mount for the Rabbitohs.
From a Junior to a Senior: Tatola cracks 100 NRL games
What most fans don't see is why his teammates love playing with him. Like when he chased down the kicker to create an easy catch for his full back and then made his way 20-metres across the ground to take the fourth tackle run to get his kicker time for the last tackle with his ever-reliable fast play the ball.
In typical fashion, he shook off a burner in his shoulder with 15-minutes to go and managed two tackles in the next set. Rotating his arm like a fast bowler hinting he wanted a bowl, he succumbed not long after and stopped the trainer on the sideline to watch as Luke Brooks raced away the very next set after he came off.
Up the tunnel and back in a flash, he stalked the sidelines waiting to come back on and was the lone player left on the bench as Brooks nailed the match-winning field goal. It wasn’t the fairytale ending for the milestone man, but there is one thing you can count on: Mr Consistency will be back to do it all again next week.
“He’s been outstanding,” South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou said of his big man up front.
“He’s 25 and got his best footy in front of him and he’s already hit 100-games. We’re disappointed we weren’t able to give him a win on his 100th game but I thought the forward pack in particular worked pretty tirelessly to give him every chance to get that victory but unfortunately it wasn't enough.”
Rabbitohs: Round 7