‘I’m not coming back’: Pangai says he won’t backflip on NRL retirement

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Tevita Pangai Jnr is adamant he is about to play his last game of rugby league and that there will be no return to the NRL after his shock switch to boxing.

Pangai stunned the league world when he opted to forgo his $750,000 contract with Canterbury next year to focus solely on the sweet science. The 27-year-old’s decision was met with scepticism and already Wayne Bennett and Andrew Johns have urged him to reconsider and take up a spot at the Dolphins and Knights respectively.

Speaking at a promotion for the “Battle of the Reef” footy fight night, to be held at the Townsville Entertainment Centre on October 7, Pangai said the Bulldogs’ final-round match with the Titans would be his last in the NRL.

“It’s going to be my last game,” Pangai told this masthead. “In boxing you’ve got to be single-minded and you’ve got to be all in. At the top level in any sport, it’s too hard to be 50-50.

“I love my footy, but if I don’t leave now, when can I give this sport a crack? It’s the best time. I went against the advice that I got.”

Pangai – who will headline a Stan Sport fight card that will feature Junior Paulo, Jason Taumalolo, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Paulo Aukuso and his brother Jermaine – will follow in the footsteps of Anthony Mundine, who also traded footy for fighting.

Tevita Pangai at the Bondi Boxing Club in Waterloo.Credit: Kate Geraghty, SMH

“The difference between me and Choc is he grew up in a boxing gym. I’m taking it up really late,” he said. “That won’t stop me from trying and doing something I love.

“It was a pretty brave decision from him. It’s a tough one for me. I’m not walking away from 750k thinking, ’I’m going to go in 50-50 for this.”

The former Broncos and Panthers enforcer promised Canterbury coach Cameron Ciraldo he would walk away if he wasn’t playing up to his pay cheque and has been good to his word.

“What got to me is I made a promise to my coach that I would perform and obviously my and our performances as a team have been below par,” he said.

Tevita Pangai Junior is serious about his boxing career.Credit: Kate Geraghty, SMH

“I’m a man of my word. If I don’t do something, then I’ll walk away. Even though he didn’t want to hold me to that promise, he was still believing in me, still wanting to work with me.

“That’s the strength of Cameron Ciraldo, he doesn’t give up on his players. Even players now that are not here next year, he still wants the best for them, still wants them to find a contract, if it’s not here or elsewhere, he doesn’t give up on players.

“That’s his strength as a coach and in the next few years he will show how good of a coach he is.”

Mundine and Paul Gallen have enjoyed huge paydays in boxing, partly because they were prepared to play the villain to drive pay-per-view sales. Asked if he was comfortable in that space, Pangai said: “In the rugby league world, you’ve got to please your teammates, you’ve to please your coach, you’ve got to keep that team culture.

“I think boxing suits my personality more and I haven’t been able to express myself in that way. But I think now in boxing I can really be myself. I can really do what I love and I can express myself in a better way …

“I think it will feel real when I don’t have to report back to pre-season. I have played my last game, no pre-season.

“Not being around 40 other blokes aiming for that one goal. It will just be myself and my trainer. That’s when it will really kick in.”

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