Pangai Jnr promises to tame his wild side
Underfire Broncos star Tevita Pangai Jr has pledged to stay out of trouble with the NRL judiciary and insists he must change his ways in his return from suspension against Newcastle tonight.
In his only interview ahead of his comeback at Central Coast Stadium, Pangai Jr opened up to The Courier-Mail, assuring Broncos fans he will overhaul his defensive style after four suspensions in the past 14 months.
The Tongan international also revealed he has placed himself on a booze ban for the past year in a bid to achieve his athletic potential in the NRL.
Pangai Jr's constant brushes with the NRL judiciary are putting his reputation - and his $600,000 Broncos contract - at risk.
He has missed 12 of Brisbane's past 19 games due to a variety of suspensions, including a crusher tackle, a late shot, a high shot and, most recently, dangerous contact on Cowboys rival Justin O'Neill in the season opener in March.
Pangai Jr has played one NRL game in the past 306 days and the damaging forward says it is time to live up to his potential - starting against the in-form Knights tonight.
"I have to change my ways," Pangai Jr said.
"I have been looking at myself and my game and trying to get better. I want to have a big year. I feel like I owe that to the boys.
"It's been hard missing so many games. I just want to get back out there and help the team.
"A lot of the suspensions were because of high-intensity moments, but I can't keep going down to Sydney for judiciary meetings.
"From now on, I will be working hard to stay on the field. I want to lead the boys with my aggression, but it's important I find that balance.
"I have a rule now: if anyone is on the ground, I won't be jumping on them (like he did with O'Neill in round one).
"Hopefully I don't break that rule."
The blockbusting Pangai Jr is one of the NRL's great enigmas.
It is a measure of his natural ability that Tongan Test teammate Jason Taumalolo, widely regarded as the best forward in the code, believes Pangai Jr is a superior talent to the Cowboys Dally M sensation.
Since his Broncos debut in 2014, Pangai Jr has played 73 NRL games, but the gulf between his best and worst games can be extreme.
Throw in a past battle with hamstring injuries, and frequent scrapes with the NRL match-review committee, and TPJ remains an untapped talent.
But at 24, Pangai Jr is dedicated to succeeding in the NRL. Such is his commitment, he regularly studies NRL footage and, deeply religious, has sworn off alcohol to extract the best of himself.
"I have matured," he said.
"During the break, I have had a few conversations with people I trust and I feel like I have learned a few things, but it's up to me to deliver on the field.
"I've been off the drink for a while now, completely. I don't miss alcohol at all. I've seen what alcohol does to families and how people act when they drink. It changes their behaviours and they can make silly decisions.
"It's also against my religious beliefs.
"I have come to grips with my faith and my place in rugby league. I feel like my attitude can help my football. Some of the best athletes, like Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather (boxing greats), never drank.
"I don't feel like I have hit my peak yet as a player. I am only 24 and the penny has dropped. This is my fifth season now and it's time for me to deliver. The Broncos have given me a big contract and I have to start paying them back."
A trusted ally is former Wallabies star Quade Cooper. During the coronavirus saga, Pangai Jr and Cooper trained almost daily, including sprint sessions at Broncos headquarters at Red Hill.
Cooper follows a strict carnivore diet, a carb-free lifestyle dedicated to consuming only animal proteins.
Pangai Jr says he is not as fanatical as Cooper, but the diet will see him take the field against the Knights tonight at a rippling 118kg.
"Quade is like a big brother to me," he says.
"I'm not as extreme as Quade with my diet but I feel eating heaps of meat helps me.
"I'm 118kg, so I've gotten a bit bigger. I don't mind playing at this weight, that's when I play my best footy. I have been eating a lot of meat and training hard in the gym.
"It's a hard diet to follow, but in terms of muscle gain and body fat percentage it has helped me a lot. I feel a big and strong. I don't have too many carbs, just heaps of meat and seafood.
"I have learnt a lot from Quade. I have seen how professional he is. We did a fair bit of training over the break and the way he treats his body, his diet, his prehab, he just ticks all the boxes and I have learned a lot in those areas.
"Coming back this week, I want to be showing more aggression with the ball instead of defence. I would like to think I am a strong ball carrier with the footy and I want to focus on my attack and that's where the game is heading anyway with these new rules.
"There's no way I've delivered my best."
Originally published as TPJ promises to tame his wild side