NRL 2021: Tevita Pangai Junior opens up on last chance at Brisbane Broncos

Humbled Brisbane star Tevita Pangai admits he is on his last chance at the Broncos and has revealed how a workforce stint digging dirt for $23 an hour has provided a reality check for his NRL career.

Pangai Jnr breaks a six-month silence to reflect on a drama-charged 2020 season which saw him docked more than $100,000 in wages and almost have his Broncos contract torn up for several off-field transgressions.

It included a series of breaches of the NRL’s strict COVID guidelines, including a visit to a barber shop owned by bikies, prompting Broncos bosses to effectively slap him with a 12-month good behaviour bond.

But it was another demand by Broncos officialdom — that he spend three months with a business mentor in the general workforce — that has changed the 25-year-old’s perspective on life and football.

The underfire Tongan international was ordered to work at Carbrook Nursery in the Logan region. For 40 hours a week, he experienced the life of the common man, doing labouring work in the searing Brisbane heat.

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Tevita Pangai Jnr has lost 7kg as he seeks to make amends for his off-field dramas last season.Source:Getty Images

At the Broncos, Pangai Jnr, who is on a $650,000 contract, earns roughly $12,500 a week. At the plant shop, he pocketed $760 a week. Without his Broncos’ monthly wage, Pangai Jnr was forced to budget and watch his pennies to cover his existing bills.

On Friday night, he makes his return to rugby league against Wynnum Manly at Kitchener Park with an appreciation of what he has … and what he almost lost.

“It was a tough time, but I learnt a lot. It has made me grateful,” Pangai Jnr told The Courier-Mail in his only interview.

“I worked at a plant nursery. I was doing heaps of stock moving, out in the sun a lot and digging up a lot of soil. It was bloody hot in the green rooms, but I took it all as a positive experience.

“I made about $760 a week, it was well down on my Broncos pay.

“My Broncos salary helps pay for my family’s mortgage so I had to dip into my savings, but to have it (his NRL wage) taken away from me was definitely a reality check and I’m glad I learnt my lesson.

“The pay wasn’t so great but I was grateful that I got to learn what everyday people do and it was a wake-up call for how lucky we are as NRL players.

“I have been pretty blessed in my life. I actually left high school early to go into an NRL system, I have never had a 9-to-5 job, so it was an eye opener.

“It was tough work. I would get up at 4am to train, then I was at work for eight hours and training again in the afternoon.

“It was very humbling.”

TPJ was forced to budget, after having his income drop from $12k to $750 a week. Picture: Getty Images.Source:Getty Images

There was an upside to the societal hard slog — it forced him to lose weight.

Pangai Jnr will run out on Friday night having shaved 7kg from his frame and he concedes Broncos bosses are running out of patience after his assortment of dramas, including four on-field suspensions for foul play in a 12-month period.

Just turned 25, Pangai Jnr has amassed 81 games in five turbulent seasons. On his day, he can be as damaging as Tongan teammate Jason Taumalolo. But unless he finds on-field consistency and off-field harmony, Pangai Jnr knows he is headed for the scrapheap.

“I don’t want to blow it all. I know the player I can be,” he said.

“I thought I was going to get punted.

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“The Broncos actually gave me permission to negotiate, I was pretty much resigned to leaving. But my dad is a big Broncos fan and he didn’t want me to go, then when ’Kevvie’ (Kevin Walters) got the (coaching) job, he called me and said he didn’t want to lose me.

“He said he was looking forward to working with me and that meant a lot to me.

“This has given me a chance to self-reflect on the period I have had. This is my sixth year in the NRL now so eventually the penny has to drop. If you take your eye off the prize and what’s important, you pay the price, so I need to get back to what’s important.

“It was pretty daunting to front the board. I had to admit I did the wrong thing and I asked them for a second chance.

Broncos players have been under fire off the field, Tevita Pangai Jr. and Payne Haas, Brisbane Broncos training, Red Hill. Photographer: Liam Kidston.Source:News Corp Australia

“I just feel like it‘s my last chance before I miss the bus. I remember seeing an interview with Roger Federer (tennis legend) and he was saying it’s easy to miss the bus when you are young and have all the talent, but don’t put in the hard work.

“I‘ve been watching the tennis and I watch someone like Ash Barty and the way she carries herself. She keeps her cool and is very balanced mentally. That’s the way I need to be.

Pangai Jnr will start at prop on Friday night and concedes he was too heavy to be effective last season.

“I played my last game at 121kg which was way too big for me, but I‘m down to 114kg, which is my playing weight when I play my best footy,” he said.

“I have watched what I ate and taken up some distance running. I did some boxing training and was running six or 10km so I‘m a lot fitter than I was last year.

“I can’t wait to get back playing again. It’s time to pay back the Broncos and their fans this year. I have made some mistakes and I want to change how I am perceived.

“I have to make the right choices now … simple as that.”

Originally published as‘My last chance’: TPJ’s sobering reality check

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