3 days ago
Big Australian Mark Tookey fits snugly into his jersey, his Mini and the hearts of Warriors fans. The 110kg prop, who today plays his 50th game for the Warriors, thinks he knows why the crowds have warmed to him.
"They can relate to me. I'm not Adonis like some of these guys with six-packs, who are six-foot tall and full of muscle."
Instead, he is stocky and barrel-like, an "odd shape for a league player", says Warriors coach Daniel Anderson.
"They (the fans) realise it is a struggle for me to be a first-grader, and to keep my weight down, and I am always working hard to do that," Tookey says.
It is this fighting, underdog spirit which has earned "Tooks" cult-like status in New Zealand.
"I've enjoyed the whole 50 games and it would be good to play 100 games over here," he says.
Like many players, Tookey has flourished under Anderson. "Hell, he'll be up for prime minister next," he says of his coach, who was recently put in charge of the Kiwis.
Anderson says Tookey's fitness levels and speed are "pretty good" for a big man. "Him and I, we've battled hard over the last couple of years over what weight I would like him to play as I think he can go to another level if he gets a little bit lighter."
Tookey is working harder than ever to trim down as he tries to earn a spot in the Queensland State of Origin team. "That is the goal, it is definitely the goal," he says.
He is training with New Zealand boxing champion Lance Revell to lose between 3kg and 5kg before the team is picked next month.
"He comes in and we hit the bags for a bit of a sweat out to help get the heart racing again. It takes the ache off your legs as we do a lot of running and during the season they get a bit sore. We also get on the bikes and the rowers to keep the weight down."
He knows he has to shine today to convince the selectors. "It's pretty much the Queensland State of Origin side, so it is important for me to play a pretty good game."
Anderson: "If he can outplay Shane Webcke and Petro Civoniceva this weekend then it makes it difficult for the decision-makers to say no. It is not up to anyone but him. His form will determine if he makes it or not."
Tookey knows this is his best chance. "While the Warriors are going well it puts me in better stead to be picked. It is so much easier for me as PJ (Marsh) and Jerry (Seuseu) make my job so much easier."
There are several contenders for Queensland propping spots alongside certainty Shane Webcke, including: Civoniceva (Brisbane), Chris Beattie (Cronulla), Steve Price (Bulldogs), John Buttigieg and Ben Ross (both North Queensland Cowboys).
Tookey was invited to attend a training camp for emerging Origin players at the end of last year.
Last season was probably his best in the NRL. He started behind Richard Villasanti, but outstanding performances against the Cowboys and the Sea Eagles helped him cement a spot in the starting line-up, where he remains.
Previously he has played for South Queensland Crushers and Parramatta Eels, where he first met Anderson.
"I knew Tooks when he was at Parramatta, and I was reserve grade coach," Anderson says.
"On the odd occasion he came back and played reserve grade. It wasn't regular, but he was pretty good at reserve grade, so I was happy to have him."
Warriors captain Monty Betham says Tookey is a great asset.
"He's a good bloke and under Anderson he is really coming into his own game."
Tookey loves playing in Brisbane, where he grew up, and will have strong family support today at ANZ Stadium.
"I only get back there once a year to play and it's always good fun, and I catch up with the family and friends.
"They will all be coming: my mum, my stepdad, my real dad, his wife, my brothers, their girlfriends and their kids. There will be free tickets coming from everywhere."
But he knows there'll be no free ride on the field.
"You always know the Broncos will be tough. We prepare for it to be tough. They are going to come at us for the whole 80 minutes and we will be happy to win by one point."
Tookey, who is married to high school sweetheart Lisa, has two main interests outside league - his car and his dogs.
"I've got a Mini, that's just a hobby, a bit of a toy of mine. I own a couple of greyhounds so I go and watch them having a bit of a run around the track. They are not winning much, they just have a little run with the other dogs."
He is a qualified personal trainer and when he retires he hopes to stay in the game as a trainer. For now, he hopes to keep playing well.
"There's a good mix of boys here - we've got a few Aussie guys here and the Polynesian boys as well. We all get on well. It is a happy place to be, right now, and we are all enjoying ourselves."