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Manly enforcer Steve Matai is one of league's most hated players - but off the field it's another story

Discussion in 'News' started by SeaEagleRock8, May 9, 2014.

By SeaEagleRock8 on May 9, 2014 at 7:03 AM
  1. SeaEagleRock8

    SeaEagleRock8 Sea Eagle Lach Staff Member Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

    +10,541 /214
    News.com 9.5.2014

    YOU would like Steve Matai more if you saw him hug his brother.

    Watching the Manly enforcer whisper "I love you" and then, not sure the message has got through, squeeze harder [​IMG]again. Big brother loves the contact.

    And given a serious disability has not only rendered him mute since birth, but unable to comprehend much of the world, it is the only communication they have ever known.

    "And Maika, I know he loves our hugs," Matai says. "So I give him plenty."

    "Also, if you're smiling, he seems to know you're happy. And that makes him happy too. So easy, I'm always smiling at him."

    If you want to keep hating Stephen 'Skivi' Matai, look away now. For rugby league needs its villains, right?

    And who better than a spitting, snarling, tattooed enforcer. The most hated player in Australia's most hated NRL team.

    In Skivi - and everyone at Manly calls him by his Samoan name - you have a footballer who is forever pushing, arguing, competing, winning. Then - and doesn't this reeeeeally tick you off - he rises to grab at injured calves, arms, shoulders and necks.

    Oh, how he grabs at that neck. Which is why we really shouldn't tell you about his bung spine. How the gap between C5 and C6, even after surgery six years ago, is not only too small for the nerve to pass through, but tightening further. So bad that when jolted awkwardly, the centre is prone to 'burners' paining right down the length of his arm.

    And don't ask us either about his charity work with sick kids from country NSW. Or opting out of New Zealand Test teams to be with sons Isaiah, 3, and Roman, 2.

    And as for the younger brother he rescued from an Auckland street gang six years ago, who he flew to Australia on his own coin and had live with him for two years; Well, we won't tell you how he's now working and raising a family of his own in Brisbane.

    No, for the good of rugby league, Matai should stay public enemy No.1.

    "Which is fine," the rogue Sea Eagle says, more softer than you might expect, as we chat on an old wooden bench outside Manly HQ.

    "I've never felt the need to prove who I am.

    "People see me running hard, tackling hard, competing and, yeah, maybe that gives off a negative impression. Maybe it makes people think I'm a more aggressive person than I am. But footy, it's only 80 minutes ... a tiny snapshot of my life."

    Which doesn't make this the yarn suggesting Matai is perfect. But nor is he the cornrowed ogre whose reputation, the Parramatta Eels argued last year, meant he deserved to be punched on suspicion by prop Mitchell Allgood.

    A footballer so misunderstood, people meeting him for the first time "seem shocked I can hold a conversation".

    Which makes him feel what?

    "Humbled," the 29-year-old continues, smiling. "To have people say 'oh, man, you're so different to what I was expecting' ... I love hearing that."

    Apart from being driven by the struggles of older brother Maika, who requires 24-hour care back home in Auckland and "battles through every single day of his life", Matai is also devoted to partner Kate and their young family.

    Indeed, while Manly skipper Jamie Lyon is considered an NRL poster boy for family, having opted out of NSW Origin teams to be with his three children, few know Matai is doing the same at international level.

    "When it comes to the Kiwis, I just haven't been interested," explains the dad without a Test appearance since his first child arrived.

    "I don't want to sound like a dick, but I've turned New Zealand down because the idea of camp, of being away from my boys, it doesn't appeal to me.

    "Some people won't understand that, but for Jamie or myself, we're not saying 'no' for the sake of it. We understand what it means.

    "This weekend we're going to play in Melbourne and, at first, I'll be happy to go. But the moment I get away, I'll start feeling homesick and be straight on the phone to my eldest boy, just to hear his voice ... I can't really explain it beyond that."

    So why then pledge to play the World Cup for Samoa late last year, before a fractured wrist in the grand final ruled you out?

    "Because that decision brought Mum and Dad to tears," he says. "A year ago, I was home and told my parents how Nigel Vagana had approached me about representing Samoa, their country of birth, at the Cup.

    "And both of them, they burst into tears right there in front of me. When I saw how much it meant to my family, I wasn't saying no."

    On the field, Matai is changing too. Despite two years ago boasting the worst judiciary record in rugby league - with a whopping 11 guilty verdicts and 21 weeks on the sideline - he missed just one week last year and remains clean in 2014.

    Elsewhere, the 94kg centre is also running for more than 100 metres per game while also boasting more linebreaks, with 10, than anyone else in the game, including Rabbitohs superstar Greg Inglis.

    Although, that part you know.

    Matai forever pushing, arguing, competing. Then rising to grab arms, shoulders, necks.

    Oh, how he grabs at that neck

    "And I know everyone thinks I'm faking," he laughs. "Even my cousins give it to me. People see me grabbing my neck, my shoulder, whatever, thinking 'ah, man, here he goes again'.

    "But if I know what's going on, what does it matter what other people think?"




Discussion in 'News' started by SeaEagleRock8, May 9, 2014.

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