Panthers forward Sitaleki Akauola’s distinct running style – where it looks like he’s charging through a brick wall on every carry – has turned him into a cult figure of the game this season.
Recently, the 25-year-old former Tongan international caught the attention of popular FOX League commentator Andrew Voss, who tweeted before last Friday’s game against the Rabbitohs: “My anticipated highlight tonight… Sitaleki Akauola’s first hit up”.
When asked by Extra Time this week what goes through his mind before charging into the defensive line, Akauola said it doesn’t faze him.
That’s right – whether it’s hit up one of the afternoon or hit up 10, they are all just as tough and hard as the next.
Despite league-wide fears of concussion and head knocks these days, Akauola said it’s his job as a Panther to put his body on the line for his team and fans.
“I just do whatever I can to contribute to the team,” he said.
“When you’re in a team it’s not my body anymore, it’s the team’s body.”
Last Friday, Akauola returned from a hyper extended elbow and torn deltoid muscle to take his place in the team.
While an injury like that could keep others sidelined for weeks, Akauola only missed one game – proving he’ll do whatever it takes to help his team out of an early season slump.
“Everyone is still confident, all those close losses that we’ve had – everyone is taking something out of it,” Akauola said.
“Everyone here is really close and when a team like this is backing each other, I guess it will all pay off at the end of the season.”
Penrith suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Rabbitohs last round and will no doubt want to make amends for a rough start to the season this Easter Sunday.
Akauola said he’s looking forward to bouncing back against last year’s defending Premiers, Cronulla.
“Hopefully we send the Sharkies back to the Shire with nothing,” he said with a smile.
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.