Life After Footy… Reni Maitua
At just 35 years of age, Reni Maitua has certainly achieved a great deal. After a successful junior footy career, he starred for the Bulldogs in their legendary 2004 NRL Grand Final victory over the Roosters, before earning selection in the Kangaroos squad in 2006. Reni then went on to captain Parramatta and was also selected to represent Samoa at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. We caught up with Reni as he contemplated life after footy and prepared to jump in the ring to make his professional boxing debut…
How are you today Reni? Very well thanks; a bit sore, but I’m good. I’m making my professional boxing debut next Saturday, so I’ve been training for eight weeks now. I’ve been off the drink, missed the whole festive season. It’s something I wanted to do before I got too old to be able to do anything really physical. I’ve had an anxious, stressful two months, but I’m really looking forward to next Saturday.
No niggles? Going in 100 per cent? Oh, no, not 100 per cent. Never 100 per cent. I’ve actually retired because I had a lower back problem. I had one more year on my contract over in England, but, you know what, it is what it is. I’m still able to get around – there’s people a lot worse off than me – and jumping in a boxing ring was something that I always wanted to do my whole career. Obviously rugby league was something that was my calling, but boxing is a sport I respect and I’ve loved my whole life.
Did you box when you were younger? The only boxing we would do was socially with each other down here, and we used to do pad work at Koby Abberton’s place, in the back yard of his Grandma’s place when we were kids. Richie Vas is a professional fighter from down here, and Kurt Bahram has had a professional career, but everything for me was rugby league.
Who’s training you? Billy Hussein’s training me, a very well respected Australian trainer who trains world champions. I’ve so much respect for him, to be able to take on a novice and put his reputation on the line. Billy and I sat down about two months ago and he offered me a fight, and I took him up on the opportunity. I had a couple of injuries this year – I broke my hand and broke my foot – so I wasn’t able to jump on to a couple of amateur cards. I’m jumping straight in the deep end and fighting on the pro card, on the main event next Saturday, February 3rd.
Who are you up against? A guy from out Revesby way. It’s kind of strange because he’s friends with a few of my friends that I played rugby league with. I don’t know too much about him. We’ve sparred once, about a month ago. I’m not sure what his record is, or what his amateur record was, but he definitely knows the sport, he knows the ring. You find out a lot about yourself when you’re in the ring and you’re trying to put what you’ve learned into practise. I’ve trained as hard as I could. I’m learning as much as I can. I don’t want to disrespect the sport. The only thing I’m really anxious about is doing the sport justice. I want the fight to be tidy, I want to look like a boxer. I don’t want to look like another rugby league player that just goes in and throws haymakers, because the people have already seen that.
We’re sitting here in beautiful Maroubra; can you tell us what this place means to you? Maroubra was a home away from home for me. I grew up not far from here. I was born in Daceyville, in a housing commission area nearby. A lot of my best friends, still my closest friends today, I met at this beach.The best thing about Maroubra was that my parents always knew where I was when I was young; I was only a bus ride away. I wasn’t roaming the streets, stealing cars, graffiti-ing or doing anything like that. We were down here surfing and just being kids really. So, the best way for me to describe it is a home away from home. It’s somewhere I come to escape – not to escape reality, but somewhere I can surf and have fun and hang out with my mates.
You’re obviously big into your surfing; were you ever a chance of going professional? I wish I was, I wish I had that career path of being a surfer. I was a surfer that had a footy player style. My legs were too big, my arse got too big, and I put on too much weight. I didn’t have the finesse that most of the other guys have. Some of the kids that are coming through here now are unbelievable. They’re so much more into their surfing than we were. It’s unreal to see, and see how well they’re doing. But I do love the surf, and I was a lifeguard down here as well. The closest thing to a sponsor would have been PSA, Pure Surf Addiction, the old Maroubra brand back in the day.
At the recent surf comp at Maroubra, every single Maroubra kid got through their heat… Yeah, there you go, it’s crazy. The kids are really focusing on their surfing now and not getting distracted with other stuff.
Where are you living now? At the moment, since I got back from England, I’m just back in Kingsford, Daceyville. It’s been a transition period over the last 12 months, finding what my purpose is in life after footy. I’ve got a place in Coogee that I’ll probably move into soon, but the last 12 months has been a real teething process for me, finding out what I could do outside of rugby league. I don’t want to go into a line of work that I’m not passionate about. I’ve still got a fair bit of life ahead of me, so I want to make sure I find the right career path for myself. I’ve done some stuff for Fox this year. I was working with the NRL in the Ambassador programme, doing some stuff in the community. I’ve also started a show with Bronte pharmacist Iain Byrne and Willie Mason where we’re talking about sport, called Unfiltered.
Can you tell us a bit more about that? I’m a huge fan of the Joe Rogan podcast, and it’s something I wanted to do, but not just sport and reviewing rugby league. Rugby league is our niche, but we wanted to get into the minds of athletes; get into the mind of a surfer, Mark Matthews is someone that we will get on soon, get into the mind of a boxer, get into the mind of a tennis player… We want to find out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what drives them, what pressures they have; outside pressures, family pressures… It’s all relevant to rugby league, even in a sport like tennis or golf. So that was the original idea. At the moment we’re doing more of a panel set-up, reviewing rugby league and a little bit of cricket – anything that’s relevant in the sporting world at that time. We’re still playing around with it.
There’s a good dynamic between you three? There is a good dynamic. Willie’s very outlandish, but that’s his personality and you wouldn’t have him any other way, because then you’d know the show was bullshit. Iain’s the brains behind it, he definitely keeps Willie and I in check, and I’m more of a mediator who sees things from a different perspective to Willie, so the dynamic does work. We want to hit the ground running in 2018 and have a big year.
I’ve watched a few episodes; the discussion in episode one about the media’s influence was particularly interesting. How do you feel about the mainstream media’s influence on sport, and how they use that influence? I get that journalists have a job to do, and I feel that if you don’t like what the media are going to say about you, then you shouldn’t be in the sport, but these athletes have feelings – they have families, they have the same emotions as anyone else – so sometimes I feel like a journalist needs to put that in perspective before they write something about an athlete or their performance. Some journalists don’t even put their name to a story.
Yeah, that’s pretty pissweak… That pisses me off. Someone like Paul Kent, for example, he’ll voice his opinion and he’ll put his name to it, and I respect that.
Does he get personal though, or does he talk about performance? He’ll give his opinion and he’ll stand by it, and I respect that about Paul Kent. I don’t always agree with what he says, but at least he puts his name to it, and he’ll stick by his opinion, but you’ll get journalists who will chop and change, sit on the fence. I don’t want someone to sit on the fence. If you’re going to say something, back it up. I think editors need to be held accountable, because a journalist will write a story, and then they’ll write a headline that doesn’t even match the story, just to sell their paper.
The Sydney Morning Herald has been out of control with its misleading headlines lately… Daily Mail is the worst, one of us will say something on Unfiltered and it will be taken completely out of context, every single week. They’ll take our quotes and put it in the paper just so they can sell a story, but once someone watches our show, they’ll realise that it was taken totally out of context. I don’t agree with any kind of bullying that there is within the papers, or on television for that matter, but it’s the world we live in today; it sells papers, it makes a story more glamorous for their company.
Have you seen Iain Byrne’s calf muscles? I haven’t seen his calf muscles, no.
They’re quite amazing… He’s always got long pants on. Next time I see him I’ll be lifting up his trousers to check his calves out.
You won’t be able to get them up, his calves are too big. What do you think of some of his T-shirts? Awful. I’ve seriously wanted to stop a show so he could get changed. He’s really letting our female viewers down, they’re switching off once they see his kit.
I once rode my scooter into his shop, drove around for a bit, and then stole a Freddo Frog on the way out; do you think it’s his own fault for having the Freddos right near the front door? Absolutely, you can’t have Freddo Frogs near the front door. All small business owners know that.
Your old man is Samoan and your mum is Australian; how did they meet? Dad was born and bred in Samoa, then moved to New Zealand in his late teens. He’s a musician by trade, and he moved to Sydney to study at the Conservatorium of Music. He reads music and plays piano, guitar and percussion, but he can’t sing. He’s probably the only Polynesian I know that can’t sing. I think they had mutual friends. Mum was friends with someone in a band, and dad was playing in the band. The ironic thing is they met in Kings Cross, where I ended up spending most of my ’20s after games, funnily enough!
What an amazing era that was! Yes, quite ironic, it seems that was always my calling – to end up back in Kings Cross! That’s where I was born – on Bayswater Road in Kings Cross – and that’s where mum and dad met. They’re still together now. Dad doesn’t play the guitar as much anymore.
Have you spent much time in Samoa? I’ve been three times. The first time I’d just broken my ankle, so I was over there on crutches.
So you weren’t surfing then? No, every time I’ve been there I’ve been injured. I’ve met the family. It was unbelievable to see dad’s sister that he hadn’t seen for 20-odd years. That kind of culture, it’s very strange for me because I’m very, very close with my siblings, and dad hadn’t spoken to or seen his sister for 20-plus years, she looked exactly like him. To see where dad was born – to see where our roots are, where our bloodline comes from – was pretty special. I’ve been over there on a rugby league camp as well. I’d love to go back there more often. It’s not that far away and I haven’t been surfing there yet, so that’s definitely on the agenda. Now that all our friends are married, or getting married, having kids, it’s definitely on, the boys surf trip, coming up in the next two years or so.
My brother went there a few years ago, said it was unbelievable… So, Salani – Salani Surf Resort – is where dad was born. Right where the surf resort is there. There’s a left and right, just off of the river mouth. Dad was born right there. I think it’s Americans that own the surf club, it was wiped out by the tsunami a few years back but it’s been rebuilt. If I’d have known when I was younger that that was our land, or where dad was from, I’d bloody kick them out and start my own surf camp.
Was your dad a league player? Was he sporty? He’ll tell you that he was. He’s told a few porky pies in his time. I think he played more rugby union in New Zealand. But, you know, musicians and sport, I don’t think they really go together. He’s a keen golfer.
Eric Grothe Junior? Oh, yeah, well there’s one, and you know how weird he is. I love the Guru. He’s a very strange man. But there’s not a whole lot of musicians that play sport, I don’t think.
What other spots do you enjoy around the Eastern Suburbs? I spend a lot of time in Coogee. I spend a fair bit of time in Bondi as well. I played for Clovelly Eagles, which is a rugby union side, with Shawn Mackay, Morgan Turinui, you know, these are guys that went on to play international rugby.
Oh, Shawny… Yeah, Shawny was very close, since we were five years old. I’m very close to Shawny’s family, we all miss him very much. Great guy, great character. His little brother Matty just reminds me of Shawn so much.
Randwick home games have never been the same since Shawn Mackay stopped playing. He was the most entertaining footballer that ever set foot on Coogee oval… I think, on and off the field, that was his character, you know. He’s just such a big personality. Like I said, we all love him and miss him so much, all the good things that everyone has a smile on their face about. John, his father, was my coach.
I’ve heard that back in the day he was the enforcer of Newtown? He was the man. For the Roosters.
Didn’t he play for Newtown as well? He might have played for Newtown, but he definitely played for the Roosters. I know John played for the Roosters, because I’m a Roosters supporter, unfortunately. I was, I was. That’s an exclusive for The Beast, I grew up watching the Roosters. Dad used to take me to all the Roosters games when I was younger. Brad Fittler was my hero, and then I played against him in a grand final. Hugh McGahan, that’s an old name that some older people might remember, Brendan Hall… Yeah, I was a mad Roosters supporter, and everyone down here hated me for it.
Who do you support now? Bulldogs. I’m still a Bulldogs fan, and Parramatta – Bulldogs and Parramatta are the two teams that I support.
Watching John Sutton win a premiership with Souths must have been pretty amazing? The funny thing is that I was 18th man for the Bulldogs in that grand final, so obviously I was really disappointed. I stuffed up in the semi-final – I threw a punch against Manly and nearly cost us our spot in the grand final – so Des Hasler wasn’t too happy about that. Michael Ennis got injured, and it came down to me and Moses Mbye, who’s a young kid originally from Noosa. They went with Moses. I was so happy for him, but we were playing against Souths and John Sutton is like a little brother to me, so I’ll follow Sutt – won’t follow the Rabbits, but I’ll follow John. Anyway, when they won the Premiership and they’re holding up the trophy, my team’s over there really upset, and I’m standing in front of the Souths team with my phone out taking photos of John Sutton holding the trophy up. So I’ve got my team mates looking at me like, “What the hell are you doing?” and I’m taking photos of my best mate holding up the trophy, because now both of us have won a trophy – I’d won one ten years earlier.
Being a Souths junior, I copped a lot of flak for not playing for Souths. They offered me contracts, but I thought Canterbury was a perfect fit for me. John Sutton had offers to go to more powerful clubs throughout his whole career, but he stuck with Souths – a good Souths junior – and to see him hold that trophy up for his family, our family, and the community, it really meant a lot.
What annoys you about the Eastern Suburbs? The traffic. I’m so over the traffic now. I love that the business owners, especially in Maroubra, are doing really well. 10 years ago you wouldn’t have seen anyone at any of these cafes down here, probably because we were a bunch of ratbags and no one wanted to come down here, so to see all these businesses doing well is fantastic. I love that about the Eastern Suburbs, but the traffic, it just does my head in.
Moi has been seen driving around in a Ferrari… Moi, she’s part of Maroubra now, I can’t believe she’s been down here so long.
She hasn’t got the Bra Boys tattoo yet, but it’s got to be on the cards… I wouldn’t be surprised if she does have one somewhere. I remember her chasing the young kids out of the shop with a big knife when we were groms, and now she’s like the mother of Maroubra.
Can you tell us a bit about your footy as a young fella? Which clubs did you play for throughout your juniors? Kensington United was the majority of my junior league. I think there’s only one team now, but when I was growing up there would have been about 30 teams, right from under 5s through to the A grade, so obviously rugby league – junior rugby league – is struggling. I played for Maroubra Lions, I played for Coogee Wombats, which is the Maroubra area team, I played two or three years there. I also played with La Perouse. I was a bit of a journeyman with my junior rugby league days, and I got signed with Canterbury and played my professional career with Canterbury, Parramatta and Cronulla, and then I came back as a retiree this year and played alongside two of my cousins with South Eastern, which didn’t go down well with the community down here. It was due to the simple fact that a lot of people I knew played for South Eastern. It wasn’t anything against any of the other clubs. I played six or seven games with them last year, just to have a bit of fun.
How old were you when you were selected to play for Australia? I’d just turned 24, it was the end of 2006 season.
Did they just call you up and say, “Mate, you’ve got the spot”? How did it make you feel? There’s a bit of a story to it. Obviously when you finish your season you have celebrations that might go on a week or two. I was out celebrating and mum rang me and said, “You’ve just been selected in the Australian team, you better get your arse home.” I said, “You’re full of shit, mum.” She goes, “Get home now, Canterbury have just called, you’re in the Australian team.” So I’m pretty tanked by that stage and I rang just a couple of people close to me and said, “I’m gonna be announced on the radio, I just made the Australian team.” So I’ve staggered home and we all sat around the radio, and they’ve announced the Australian team, but my name wasn’t called out.
I thought mum was taking the piss, just to try and get me home. I was filthy, and Canterbury rang up and said, “Ricky Stuart apologises, but they’re going to go with Tonie Carroll.” I thought, well, Tonie Carroll’s not a bad person to lose my spot to, he’s a Queensland player, an international. So I went back to the pub and kept celebrating the great year that we had. About a day or two later, Tonie Carroll pulled out through injury, so I got the call again. I was the last player picked into the Australian squad. Besides winning a premiership, everyone wants to wear an Australian jersey, and wear a New South Wales jersey, so it was the most unbelievable feeling. I ended up going into camp, Darren Lockyer’s in there, it was myself, Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith…
One of the best Australian teams of all time… Yeah, we were all debutantes for the Australian side. Johnathan Thurston, Nathan Hindmarsh, Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley… there was just this unbelievable squad. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, and being the last player picked, I didn’t expect to play. We went into camp, we trained for a couple of weeks before we played the Kiwis, and two days before the first test Ricky Stuart picked me at lock, starting lock. To go from the last player picked to starting in the first test was unbelievable. I thought I was just going to be there to be part of the squad, to get some experience. I broke my ankle in the 79th minute, so that was my one and only test, but I’ve worn the jersey one time more than just about anyone else. I didn’t get to wear it again but, far out, it was the most incredible experience.
You got picked to play for Samoa as well? Yeah, that was later in my career, and usually people don’t play for Samoa until toward the end of their career. I knew I wasn’t going to play for Australia again, or anything like that. I’m really, really proud of my culture, and where dad comes from, and my bloodline – you can see I’ve got the Polynesian tattoos and everything.
Best World Cup ever? Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita… what these guys have done for the Pacific Nations, now all the kids want to represent the islands. They’re knocking back 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars to play for Australia or New Zealand to represent the islands. It’s hard to put into words what the culture is, and what the feeling is when you’re in camp, or when you’re doing the Siva Tau – to do that against your opponent, there’s just nothing like it. I’m a proud, proud Australian as well, but we don’t really have that culture, it’s not a long history. When you play for the islands, you can really feel the passion.
How was your dad? I’m sure he would have had a little tear in his eye. I can’t speak Samoan, but I made sure I learned the national anthem. I stood at the front of the Siva Tau, that’s how much it meant to me. They call someone like myself ‘plastic’. That’s what islanders call you, you’re a plastic islander, an Aussie, but I don’t mind. For me, I’m like, well, it’s funny, because if you’re playing for Samoa, “Oh, Reni’s playing for Samoa, yeah, he’s a Samoan,” but when you’re just Joe Blow in the street, “Oh, he’s a plastic islander, he’s not really from the island.” But you know what, that’s just jealousy. I’m proud of where I come from, I’m proud of my father’s heritage, I’m proud of where he comes from, and I’ll always represent Samoa, but I’m just as proud to be Australian as well.
Fifita defecting to Tonga was one of the best things to happen to rugby league, certainly to the World Cup… Absolutely. I think the Tongans pretty much carried the World Cup on their back. I understand his decision. It was nothing against the Australian jersey – there’s so many good Australian kids coming through, you could pick three Australian teams that would win the World Cup.
Did you see Lachy Lam’s debut with Papua New Guinea? I saw his try, and I was in Papua New Guinea when they played against Wales in the first game, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s their national sport in Papua New Guinea, so to see them do so well was amazing. It’s a scary country, there’s a lot of crime that happens there, especially in Port Moresby, but when the rugby league’s on, they’re all together, they’re all one.
You’ve had your fair share of ups and downs over the years, including your much publicised battle with depression; how did you get through that and get yourself back to where you needed to be, to where you are now? Look, it was medication, therapy, and just general support from family and friends. It was just getting an understanding of what I was feeling emotionally, and educating myself on how to deal with adversity. Without going into it too much, there was substance abuse, alcohol – I was self-medicating with alcohol. We’re not taught in school how to deal with emotion. It’s not something you’re taught, and there were things outside of sport that I was dealing with, then there was the pressures of the game, being a captain of the club, trying to be a leader. There were just so many elements, I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t, and I didn’t know how to deal with that. So to get through that, there was the medication, there was the therapy, and then there was support. Then there was getting out in the community eventually and doing a treadmill run for Suicide Prevention Australia…
That’s the one that Spook and Higgsy organised? Yeah. I did the first year, and then I went to England. I went to college and did an introductory counselling course to learn how to talk to people that might have problems. I’ve done my mental health first aid twice. I do a little bit of keynote speaking as well, and I’ve done the rookie camp twice – all under 20 players – and talked about the pressures of the game, and pressures in life. I’ve spoken to Blacktown and Bankstown Councils. So I think the best therapy for me is to be able to talk about it and share my story. I’m not qualified to tell people what to do, but I’ll just tell someone what I went through, and what helped me, and then hopefully someone takes something away from that.
With social media these days I’m very accessible, and it’s really hard because I get a lot of direct messages and it’s impossible to get back to everyone. Mental health is a really big problem within our society, I’ve had four extremely close friends take their own lives, and there’s probably another five I know of, just through the area, that have taken their own lives, and we can prevent it. It’s something that I don’t like to get into too much, I need to step away from it a lot. Sometimes it becomes too much, a little bit overwhelming, trying to be that person and staying positive and sharing stories, but I come in and out of it. When I feel that I’m in a healthy head space I can share my story and pass on some of my knowledge, because you don’t want anyone to go through those circumstances.
For someone who’s never suffered with depression, it’s a very difficult thing to understand; can you articulate, in a nutshell, what it actually is? For me, I try and explain to people that I was living inside a bubble – I only could see what was sort of directly in front of me, or just to the side or behind me. I couldn’t see outside of that bubble. I was enclosed in that sort of cage that I couldn’t escape, easily irritated, very emotional, and I couldn’t get out. Now, as a person that’s doing really well, I see the bigger picture of life. I see my family and smile at my family, I see my nieces, my nephews, my friends, the beach… I see everything. It’s like someone’s lifted a mask off my eyes. But when I was at my worst, it was like being locked up inside of a small room, or a cage, that I could not escape. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. It’s not until that door’s opened, or the blindfold’s taken off and you can see the bigger picture, that you begin to understand, “Hang on a sec, there’s way more – way, way, more – to life.” For people who don’t have depression, it’s really hard for them to understand. Some people will never understand it, unfortunately, until it affects them directly, either personally or through someone they know.
I watched the Michael Slater Footy Show interview with you and Willie Tonga and it was hard not to shed a tear. If Willie Tonga hadn’t made it to your place in time that night, you would not be here now. Without digging too deep, how happy are you that he came that night and saved your life? To this day, we still haven’t spoken about it, but I don’t need to speak to him about it to understand how he feels about it emotionally. The effect that it had on him personally, the circumstances of how it affects my family, how it affects the people closest to me, how it affects Willie, is still something that burns inside me today, because no one should have to deal with that. Willie’s a religious man, he knew something was wrong with me, but we didn’t really speak about it, so how it affected him on a personal level is still really hard for me to talk about. He’s essentially a brother to me. I’ll do anything for Will, he knows that. I can’t even describe what Willie is to me in words. He’s blood to me.
You’ve been able to use your experience to help other people going through the same thing? Yeah, I speak about it. It’s public knowledge, I’ve done a lot of interviews and print media interviews about it and stuff like that. I’m not trying to leave it behind me, but now it’s about how I can affect people’s lives in a positive way, and moving forward. I don’t want it to define me as a person. Unfortunately it was a significant period in my life that got a lot of attention, but I’m trying to turn that into a positive as much as I can.
You got a two year ban for performance enhancing substance Clenbuterol, a muscle building anabolic agent, back in 2009, but you denied ever having taken it. As you were preparing for your return to the game, you explained to News Corp, “Clenbuterol is known as a cutting agent for recreational drugs. You don’t need to read between the lines to understand, it’s pretty obvious what’s happened. The most embarrassing thing is that people might think I’m a steroid cheat. I would much rather be known as someone who partied too much than a cheat.” You obviously look down on drug cheats, but just how rife are performance enhancing drugs in rugby league? I thought I was in the know. The whole peptide thing was a complete shock to me. I was like, no way, there’s not a chance, and I was forever defending rugby league players, even when I was in England, because they were like, “No, you guys are too good at rugby league, you guys are all steroid users.” I’m like, “I’m telling you right now, we just train a hell of a lot harder than you.” To this day, I honestly couldn’t tell you a statistic, or how many people I think might be using performance enhancing drugs in rugby league at all. I’d have no idea. Even back when I played, we just got tested so often.
How often do you get tested? You just don’t know, they could turn up to training whenever. You get in-house tested, blood tested, urine tested… all at the drop of a hat. With my circumstance, it was the better of the two to say, look, I did party too much. It was the first time I’d ever taken recreational drugs during a season. We had played on a Friday, I hadn’t drunk for four months, I had a big weekend and six days later I got tested and that substance was in my system. It wasn’t until hours later when mum rang me and goes, “Have you been…”, because we couldn’t figure out what Clenbuterol was. It kept coming up that it was for horses with asthma, and we were like, what the hell? So I’m ringing the trainers, thinking, what are you giving us? Like, has it been in the Ventolin? What is it? Then it wasn’t until page 10 of Google, “commonly cut with recreational drugs, ecstasy and cocaine,” and that’s when it clicked, and instead of facing the music straight away, I walked away. I left, I went to Bali and went, ‘I’m out of here’.
Best place to go! I did it, you know, I took recreational. Then, after 12 months, it was time to tell my story. I was getting two years no matter what. I could have just said, “Yeah, yeah, I took a bloody performance enhancing drug,” but I told the truth. It was about 12 months later before I even had the conversation with my dad. I said, “Dad, look, I took recreational drugs, this was cut into it, blah, blah, blah.” So, in terms of performance enhancing, the whole peptide thing was a complete shock to me. I don’t think that there is a problem within rugby league with it. There is definitely not a culture within clubs. I can, hand on heart, say that at every club, there is no culture within a club to push their players to do it. I can honestly say that rugby league does not have a performance enhancing drugs culture.
Pretty much every person I know dabbles in recreational drugs. It’s easier to get a bag of cocaine in the Eastern Suburbs than it is to get a parking spot within 100 metres of your house; do you think recreational drugs should just be legalised? Look, I know recreational drugs are rife in society throughout the world. I don’t have a view on whether or not they should be legalised, or anything like that. For me to be a future parent one day, I have to understand that my child, or my nieces and nephews, are going to be exposed to it at some point, so I need to educate them as well as I can on the effects of what these things do to our bodies, our brains, our brain function. That’s all I can do, because we’ll never, ever stop what’s happening within society worldwide. It’s there, and we have to deal with it the best way we can, through education, and to show the effect that it has on people. As for legalising it, or anything like that, I don’t have a view on that. I just need to protect my family. I’ll hopefully have kids one day, I’ve got nine nieces and nephews, and I need to set the best example for them and educate them on the effects of drugs and alcohol.
The fact that cocaine is cut with a horse asthma drug is pretty concerning; are you asthmatic? No, but I considered going down that path. I thought, “Maybe I do have asthma?” But that’s the thing; I was meant to get caught. I’m not overly religious, but there was a reason why I got caught, and it was the best thing for me, because I was partying way too much.
You honestly believe you were meant to get caught? I was meant to get caught. Rugby league was a chore. Like I said, I’m not overly religious, but God has a plan for all of us, and for me, to spend two years away from the game and be a spectator, and realise what I had and what I lost, it made me a better person moving forward into the future, and coming back to a sport that gave me so much. Footy has given me everything. Without rugby league I’d have nothing.
What advice do you have for aspiring kids wanting to follow in your footsteps and make it as a professional footballer? I wouldn’t say follow in my footsteps completely. I think it’s just to be your own person. In a rugby league culture, there’s, say, 25 players in a top squad. Even though you’re playing a team sport, you have to be a little bit selfish in terms of creating your own legacy, and what you want best for you, because at the end of the day, when you retire, your centre, or your five eighth, or your back row, or your front row, is not going to be paying your bills. So it’s about creating your own legacy. Be your own man, don’t be a sheep. Be a team player, but be your own person, because there’s too many influences now. It’s hard for kids these days with social media, and how much access people have to athletes, it’s crazy. I came through a period where social media was just starting, I’m happy that I’m not coming through as an athlete now, because I find that it’s a lot harder for kids these days than it was for me when I was coming through. They’ve got a lot more people pulling at them in different directions, so as long as they can stay on the right path and be their own person, then I think they can have a successful career.
You have some amazing tattoos, particularly this traditional Samoan piece on your left arm and chest; can you tell us about that? Originally, all of the Samoan design was done from the bottom of the ribs down to the knees, it’s called the Pe’a. I’m going to give you a bit of a history lesson now. Only the Chiefs got the Pe’a done. Basically it’s the design of the canoe, or the fale – the house – so any of those designs within the fale or the boat is the patterns of a Samoan piece, and then it became more fashionable to get it on their arms, to get sleeves done. I’ve heard of people getting it in four days, some people about two weeks. People have died getting it, it’s essentially chiselled in with a boar’s tusk, or a shark tooth – different cultures use different methods. It’s a very painful experience and it’s a very honourable thing for a Samoan man to go into their manhood, to get the Pe’a done. It’s way too painful for me to get the full piece. I had the first piece of mine traditionally done when I was 14 years old, and then the rest was done with a tattoo gun in New Zealand, and my leg was done in Samoa. It means a lot to me. To get the ink and go through a painful experience to represent the islands and represent my father means a lot.
And you got rid of the one on your neck? They’ve done a bloody good job… Yeah, that’s probably a bit of advice for the younger people; everyone goes through different stages in their life, and I got my neck tattooed. I’m still going through the process of getting it removed. It’s not me as a person, and it didn’t mean anything to me either. There’s a long life after footy, and I wanted to be able to get the right job that suits me, and obviously, unfortunately, tattoos are not looked upon well. I’ve had four sessions now, probably got another three or four sessions to go. A guy named Mike Anderson at Think Again Laser Clinic in Rozelle saw my story – that I was trying to find work, and had neck tattoos – and he offered to remove them, so I’m getting as many removed as I can. It’s just not me as a person. I’ll keep all my traditional tattoos that mean things to me, and the rest are all Bali tattoos from when I’ve been on the piss.
What does the future hold for Reni Maitua? Hopefully kids, soon. I am 35, and probably left it a little bit late. I’ve got a beautiful partner, Danika, and I’d love her to give me some little Maituas. I’d love to have a family. I’m a pretty simple person now, I just want to be able to surf, have some kids, watch them play any sport, watch them surf, watch them grow up, and live comfortably. I don’t want to have bucket loads of cash, I just want to live a simple life and be a family man.
All the best for the future, and thanks for chatting with The Beast. All good, thank you.
Reni boxed beautifully in his professional boxing debut on Saturday, February 3, stopping his opponent in the second round. If you’d like to check out Reni’s latest project and get your fix of unfiltered sports analysis, please visit www.skipi.tv/unfiltered.