It’s not the easiest transition to make.
Every year, the country’s most brightest and promising rugby league talent look to make the step up from the U/20’s Holden Cup program to full-time training and extended NRL squads in the hope of becoming one of first-grade stars they looked up to as a kid.
In 2017, seven Wests Tigers players will look to make that leap.
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Taniela Paseka has always been the biggest player in every team he’s played in.
“I can only remember one team where I wasn’t,” laughed the All Saints Liverpool junior.
“I was 15 playing in the U/18’s team and there was the one guy bigger than me.
“But that was the only time.”
Looking at the giant teenager — which is no easy feat to do — it’s perhaps easy to think of Paseka as just “the biggest kid on the field” who bullies his way through opponents.
But there’s much more to the 118kg, two-metre tall, 19-year-old forward than that.
Remarkably agile for his size and blessed with some strong footwork too, Paseka’s development throughout the past 12 months is one that few could have expected.
Back in last November, Paseka was coming off a season of SG Ball at Western Suburbs and turned up to Leichhardt Oval No.2 for his first day of pre-season training at Wests Tigers. He’d only just turned 18, and there he was, running alongside the likes of Aaron Woods, Dene Halatau and Chris Lawrence — throwing himself into tackles and drills.
Dropping back to the Holden Cup squad for training post-Christmas, Paseka played his first game of U/20’s off the bench in Round 1 against the New Zealand Warriors.
It was raw, but there was no doubting the talent of the gentle giant.
With Junior Kangaroos forwards Junior Tatola ruled out for the season and JJ Felise stepping up to NRL, Paseka was brought into the starting team for the Holden Cup side, and with that opportunity, soon began to make his name known as he led from the front.
A string of impressive performances — highlighted by his Round 9 effort against the South Sydney Rabbitohs which resulted in a 46-0 win and 252 metres off 18 runs, — soon led to Paseka’s selection in his first representative team, the NSW U/20’s.
Again, as he’d done with every opportunity he’d been given up until this, Paseka relished the new role, paving the way for a sixth consecutive Blues series win with a damaging performance against the Maroons with 126 metres and a try-assist in just 35 minutes.
Carrying that form until the end of the year, Paseka achieved the rare double of being voted by the Club’s coaching staff as the Holden Cup Player of the Year, but also by his teammates as the Players’ Player of the Year at the end-of-season Presentation Night.
It was a season as big as the forward himself.
And while it would be easy to stop and admire the success of 2016, Paseka — who re-signed with Wests Tigers until the end of 2018 — was simply looking to what lies ahead.
“The biggest thing I learned… was that I do have something there and potential,” he said.
“For me, that self-belief has been really big, and now I want to show that more and continue to show that at Wests Tigers. I’m still eligible for 20’s next year, and I really want to lead from the front of that team, or whatever team I’m playing in.
“I love the Club. I love the boys and the culture there. Hopefully I can be there for a while now and just continue to grow as a player and continue to play good footy.”
If the year to come is as big as the year that’s been, the sky is well and truly the limit.
Especially for one of the biggest players in the Club’s extended NRL squad this year.
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