Elite Prospects

How Tevita Pangai Junior won NSW Blues spot after once supporting Queensland

But it is the calming influence of Sonny Bill Williams which has helped mould Pangai jnr in recent years, Williams training with the Blues prop over summer in a bid to get him in career-best shape.

“He’s a brute on the field, he’s an enforcer, but a very intelligent man,” Williams said. “For example, if you say, ‘This is the style of eating you’ll get a lot of benefits from, or the style of training’, he will then go and do his own study.

Tevita Pangai jnr and Sonny Bill Williams (inset).

Tevita Pangai jnr and Sonny Bill Williams (inset).Credit: NRL Photos, Getty

“We were doing some long-distance running for boxing, and I was talking to him about heart rate and working in different zones, and then I found out he went and worked with a long-distance runner and joined a running club. I knew the hard work would pay off for him.

“I think he’s starting to get a feel and a balance for how he plays, or not having to prove he’s the tough guy on the field. For a lot of people it was a bit of a shock he got picked, but you could see the progression and Freddy knows what he brings to the table in terms of being an enforcer.”

Said Pangai jnr: “I just love the way [Williams] was as a player, as a young Polynesian kid. There were three players I really loved – GI, Israel [Folau] and Sonny – they were my three favourite players. He’s been a big role model for me. It was just the way he played the game, he was aggressive and he was skillful.”

The Blues will need every bit of Pangai jnr’s aggression and skill to win game one in Adelaide, having parachuted the former Broncos star into the squad after Jake Trbojevic withdrew with a calf problem.

Canterbury coach Cameron Ciraldo told Pangai jnr he was in Blues contention before his side’s comeback win against the Titans, with the forward producing a superb second half stint to sway Fittler’s thinking.

“For me, when he runs out next Wednesday night, I will be glued to the TV supporting him, supporting Payne Haas, supporting all the islander boys,” Williams said.

“I see him as a leader. A lot of our islander boys don’t see themselves as leaders, because of where they come from. The majority of us come from nothing. They’re doing it for themselves, their families and their villages, their communities. It means a lot now.


“The beauty of today’s age is they open up and step into that space. They’re taking it upon themselves to understand they are leaders.”

Pangai jnr will be one of three Origin debutants for NSW in the series opener, joining Young and Cronulla’s Nicho Hynes.

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