TURBULENT TIGERS | Wests Tigers' 2016 season was... interesting.
From the demotion and eventual dep...
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: Robert Tanielu normally starts lugging around crates of fruit and vegetables in a Brisbane market while most of us are sleeping. But this week the Christchurch-born rugby league prop has been given time off to concentrate on carting up the football for the Brisbane Broncos.
Tanielu has an understanding boss at the Rockleigh Fruit Markets and as a life-long fan of the Brisbane club - and a sponsor to boot - Tony Joseph recognises the 19-year-old needs to rest up before he lives out his dream in Sydney on Friday night, a first grade debut against the Wests Tigers.
"I normally start at 3am and go through to 11am but Tony's given me the week off," said Tanielu, a graduate of the Aranui High School sports academy.
After work the 1.95m, 112kg front rower usually heads to training with the Toowoomba Clydesdales, but now he and some of his first division teammates find themselves in the big league. They open round 12 of the National Rugby League (NRL) at Campbelltown Stadium.
A Junior Kiwi last year, Tanielu is one of eight first grade debutants in the most inexperienced squad - average age 21 - ever fielded by the joint competition leaders.
Nine players have been stood down for the second State of Origin encounter next Wednesday while seven other top-grade players are injured.
The absence of Kangaroos Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva and veteran Andrew Gee paved the way for Tanielu to make an unexpected step up.
"It still hasn't hit me yet. It will be unbelievable," "Eighteen months ago I never dreamed I'd be pulling on a Broncos jersey and running out there. I was expecting maybe next year, I'll just have to take the opportunity."
Aware he is filling the sizeable boots of Webcke and company, Tanielu slept easy last night after his name was read out, and was trying to remain calm.
"The nerves haven't shown at training so far. It's going well and I'm learning things," he said.
Being surrounded by many of his Toowoomba teammates was a relief.
"We're all in the same boat I guess. We're just focusing on what we need to do and just getting to know the senior players."
Tanielu moved across the Tasman in January last year after attracting the attention of player agent Jim Bannigan when he played for the New Zealand Schoolboys side in 2000.
He initially played for Brisbane Wests but switched to Toowoomba, the Broncos' feeder club, after signing with the five-time premiers last November.
"I got spotted and things have just gone from there. It's been incredible."