If someone told you it’s going to take over 15 years to reach your dream role, with setbacks along the way and no guarantee of selection, would you apply? Chris Talakai did.
It was club rugby union on Friday night, school rugby union on Saturday, rugby league on Sunday.
“I started in league for Mascot Jets. I then attended Waverley College and we had to do sport on the weekend. The closest thing to rugby league was rugby union…and from there I did both,” says Talakai, now a University of Sydney graduate signed with the NSW Waratahs.
He played both codes until joining Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) where he spent six years as a student, teaching us all a lesson in the long game.
“I never thought I would get here. I’ve been through a lot of injuries and to be on the Waratahs’ roster just felt so far away,” says Talakai, who slowly progressed through the grades, balancing sport, study and work.
The saying “good things take time” is thrown up a lot when discussing success, yet we live in a world that adores speed. Chris remained patient and evolved from one of his greatest “weaknesses”.
“It takes me a little bit longer to understand new things, from knowledge (university) to actions (rugby union). But, I think this has led me to my greatest strengths. How so? Because I know this and acknowledge it, I just tell myself to work harder so I can understand things a lot easier. I tend to unpack a lot of situations, terminologies and processes to understand why things happened and what they’re about. It helps me to come up with a precise solution to execute.”
Breaking down the big picture, the prop has not only realised his rugby dream, but he was able to score a degree (Master of Teaching) and give back to aspiring juniors.
“I was the SUFC Junior Development Officer for a year, I really enjoyed that role. I spent time going to the different association clubs. I went to Canterbury on Monday’s, Petersham on Tuesday’s and Balmain on Thursday’s. I did that, along with another two jobs, playing and training for SUFC while studying full-time.”
With so much going on Talakai drew up a “Life Timetable” with support from the Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness Elite Athlete Program staff.
“Leonie Lum helped me through the stressful times, and oh boy she’ll tell you there were so many, and through the great moments too. While Dustyn helped me a lot in finishing strong in my studies.”
Their guidance allowed Chris to show up again and again. In rugby it was about training hard enough and smart enough so that come the weekend, everything was second nature.
In academics it was about clarifying anything learnt, covering everything before the exam, doing the work, meeting assignment deadlines or preparing for a speech.
Pressure arises throughout the process not just on the day of winning that 2018 Shute Shield grand final. How you handle the moments dictates how you turn up and Chris was determined.
“I learnt to get organised. Things get so easy if you can plan what you can do daily, to achieve your goals monthly, to achieve success yearly.”
Step by step Chris has succeeded. Never giving up, he’s landed in professional sport and relished the places, the people and the passion to get there.
The growth period wasn’t a spurt. It was on Talakai’s time and now that he’s applied himself entirely towards achieving his dream he will be growing towards the next one.
“I want to reach my full potential in this sport and leave the game in a place that I know I gave it my all.”
It’s a long-range vision with many unknowns but Chris will continue playing his slower, soothing tunes of reggae or Tongan Hymns before lacing up his boots for the game he loves.