Father’s health battle inspiring rising South Sydney star

Tevita “Junior” Tatola carries more than just his father’s name.

“He’s my motivation; I have his name on my wrist every time I play,” Tatola said.

“Every time I step out onto that field, I’m always thinking about my old man and everything he has done for me and my brothers.

“I always think about my dad because he can’t really do much at the moment. He can’t even come out to the game sometimes because it’s too far for him to walk, he runs out of breath.”

It’s been a long time since Tatola snr has been well enough to witness his son play first hand. The father of seven boys, including the George Piggins medallist, has diabetes, which requires a trip to hospital three times a week to manage.

“With his health, he had to retire early,” Tatola said. “He’s on dialysis three times a week, it’s pretty full on.

“He’s got to go to hospital for about six hours each time, and then he can come home and relax.

“I went over [earlier this week] to have a chat about the game and catch up. He’s one of the first people I talk to about footy; I’ve always got time for him.

“I’m very grateful to him and my mum as well; I want to repay both of them by doing my best on the footy field.”

South Sydney forward Tevita “Junior” Tatola with his father, Tevita snr, after representing Tonga in a Test match.

Parenting seven boys on a meagre income has had its challenges. Tatola’s parents worked at a bread factory and the leftovers were often all that was presented on the dinner table.

“It was pretty much my parents would eat first and then all the boys fend for themselves,” Tatola said. “Whoever gets in there first gets most of it.

“It was a pretty tough upbringing; my dad was providing for seven boys and making ends meet.

“We moved houses about three or four times, just trying to pay bills and put food on the table. It was a bit tough at times. My parents did their best and tried to give us the best opportunity to live life in Australia [after moving from Tonga].

“It was pretty hectic at times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s made me into the person I am today.”

Tatola was a surprise winner of the George Piggins Medal, awarded to the best and fairest South Sydney player of the season. The 25-year-old joins the likes of John Sutton, Nathan Merritt, Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis in earning the foundation club’s most prestigious award.

Tevita Tatola alongside George Piggins after winning the George Piggins Medal.

“It’s a massive honour for myself; it’s a pretty big award,” he said. “I thought one of the other boys in contention would have got it. It’s a massive achievement, I’m grateful.

“It was pretty awesome to have [Piggins] there and present the medal himself. It was pretty cool. It was my first time meeting him and we had a little chat. It was great he made the effort.”

The medal is deserved recognition for a hard-toiling prop whose efforts are sometimes underrated. Tatola averages 134 metres and 27 tackles a game in 2022 and will be part of the Tongan pack for the season-ending World Cup.

Tatola and his dad have been inspiring each other during their respective battles and showing his father the Piggins medal was a highlight for both.

“He was pretty proud,” Tatola said. “He doesn’t say much, but I know he was proud of me and what I’ve achieved so far this year.”

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