‘My Life in Rugby League’ for League Express with Henry Fa’afili in 2007. At the end of the season, the Kiwi signed with Harlequins but reneged to move to France and play rugby union, a move which prompted Quins owner, Ian Lenagan, to threaten legal action. Fa’afaili hasn’t returned to League.
How did you get into Rugby League?
My dad had been a good rugby union centre in Samoa but when we moved to south Auckland it was a Rugby League team that was near my home so he took me there and I got into League. I was spotted playing for Auckland in a big national Under-18s tournament and ended up at the Warriors so I was lucky to come straight from school to a full time job at the Warriors.
2000 was your debut year but it was a turbulent year for the Warriors wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. The Warriors went bankrupt or something like that and we had to take pay cuts so it was a tough year for us, especially the young guys like myself, Shontayne Hape and Clinton Toopi. As young players we weren’t on the best pay anyway so to take a pay cut isn’t easy but to be training alongside the star names was great and the club sorted itself out in the end.
The year ended with you playing for Samoa in the World Cup.
Yes, I was lucky enough to be picked and got to play alongside some great players. We did well, got through the group stages and I got a couple of tries against the Maori side when I played stand-off. We got to the quarter-finals and had to play Australia which was a daunting task but it was superb to take the field opposite Darren Lockyer, Gorden Tallis and all the others. We competed pretty well for a while but a team like theirs was always going to take over and win.
2001, in contrast to what had gone before, was a great year for the Warriors and also yourself.
That’s right, I played in nearly every game and worked very hard in pre-season. Daniel Anderson came in to coach us and I learned a lot off him. We made the play-offs, losing to Parramatta but the atmosphere in our last few home games was wonderful.
And you kept the momentum going into 2002. What do you remember of that season and the Grand Final appearance?
Well it was a great season for the club but I missed out on the final cut with Brent Webb and Vinnie Anderson and we sat out of the Grand Final. I was so nervous for the boys who unfortunately lost but it gave me a real driving force to get back into the side for the following year.
You took your frustration out on Great Britain by scoring a hat-trick in the first Test of the 2002 series in Blackburn.
Yeah, that game is one of the highlights of my Rugby League career. I learned a lot off the senior players on that tour and I can put the three tries to other guys performing well because I just had to be on the end of them. We won that game, drew the following week at Huddersfield and then lost at Wigan so we drew the series.
What did you think of the British players receiving the Shield – instead of you sharing it – and performing a lap of honour when the series had been drawn?
It was a bit strange being treated like the losers when we hadn’t lost the series. Even our players were thinking they’d lost but we’d drawn the series. Although, given our high expectations, we were unhappy with a series draw.
In 2003, the Warriors came very close to another Grand Final with you heavily involved again.
I worked a lot harder to get involved with the Warriors again and managed to get back in, having a decent year on a personal level. The team went well and we were narrowly beaten by Penrith in the major semi-final. They went on to win the competition against the Roosters, the side we had lost to in 2002. You win some, you lose some in Rugby League! We had a good year but anything can happen in semi-finals.
You were part of a Test victory over Australia shortly after and you scored a try didn’t you?
Yes I did. I scored in the corner and I was so happy to be in a winning side over Australia. Clinton Toopi got a hat-trick that day and it was a very emotional time for us all to get over them.
You moved to England in 2004. What were your reasons?
It was time to move on I think and when the Warrington deal came up, it was a positive move for myself and my family and it’s something I’m very happy I did. I wasn’t getting too much game time at the Warriors in 2004 and moved to Warrington in July. Paul Cullen really sold the club to me, telling me about the new stadium and how the club would be really progressing over the next couple of years. We missed out on the play-offs that year but made up for it in 2005 by making the top six and, of course, that was the year that Andrew Johns came over.
What were those few weeks like?
It was great to play alongside him with him telling us what to do and giving us tips. The forwards were buzzing, we all were in fact. The whole town got something out of it and I’ll always remember the Leeds game which was his first match. Joey kicked off, big Chris Leikvoll put a shot on Rob Burrow. From the scrum, Joey passed to Briersy, on to Martin and then me to score in the corner and Joey kicked the goal from the sideline. The atmosphere was electric that night and we got a big win off the back off it.
The highlight of last year was also a win over Leeds, this time in the play-offs.
Yes, that win showed how good we can be, especially by beating them at Headingley. Briersy kicked the important drop goal but even though there was time for Leeds to come back, we held them out by showing a lot of spirit. It was a great game and having pulled it off, we know we can get wins like that again.
2007 has been a traumatic year for the club with so many injuries. Have you enjoyed your subsequent move to the centres?
Yes I have because I prefer playing in the centres. You get more ball and I enjoy the extra defensive work.
Two positives from this year have been the employment of James Lowes at the club and the emergence of Kevin Penny. What can you tell us about those two?
James is awesome, absolutely fantastic. He’s a very technical coach and identifies little areas that need working on especially in the forwards. He tells you how it is and has been fantastic for the club. As for Kevin, he’s got a big future ahead of him. He’s very quick and very confident in his abilities and he’ll be scoring tries for years to come.
What are your future international plans. Is it New Zealand or Samoa for you?
Most of the boys over here are going to play for Samoa and that’s what I’ll be doing. We have World Cup qualifiers this year – we’re up against the United States first in November – and hopefully we’ll make the competition itself next year. We have plenty of players on board like David Vaealiki, George Carmont, Willie Talau, Francis Meli, Joe and Nigel Vagana, David Solomona, Kylie and Thomas Leuluai, Maurie Fa’asavalu, Ali Lauitiiti, Tony and Frank Puletua, Hutch Maiava, Iafeta Paleaaesina and Harrison Hansen so we’re looking forward to it.
Stacey Jones is now retired. Was it an honour to play alongside him?
Definitely. He’s a champion on and off the field and I am honoured to have played alongside him and to have been under some of his high kicks!