In footy’s ‘5am Club’ as bad boy Tevita Pangai Junior talks about his relationship with ‘big brother’ Quade Cooper, how they conquered cycling and the death of his daughter
- Tevita Pangai had a tumultuous 5-year spell in the Brisbane Broncos
- Caught mixing with cycling and violating Covid-19 biosafety laws
- Quade Cooper helped him rebuild his career during 5am workouts
- Pangai and partner Anna Inoke lost their unborn daughter in August
- He will line up for Penrith on Saturday against the defending Melbourne Prime Ministers
Footy enforcer Tevita Pangai Junior says lessons learned from ‘big brother’ have inspired Quade Cooper as he takes the next step on his own journey to an unlikely NRL premiership on Saturday.
Pangai was unwanted by fighting Brisbane and lost in July despite having one more season left on his contract.
Just two months later, Pangai will star in an NRL grand final qualifier with Penrith against the defending premiers Melbourne.
Pangai pinched himself after becoming a bench gun for a title threat, before signing a contract with Canterbury for next year.
Tevita Pangai Junior (pictured, left) has credited Quade Cooper (pictured, right) for helping him rebuild his career and life after a rough patch with the Brisbane Broncos
“I thought I had another year on contract with the Broncos, but I’m grateful to Penrith for letting me play finals again – it’s good to be back,” he said.
There were tumultuous times during Pangai’s five-and-a-half season in Brisbane, with his contract nearly torn in 2020 for biosecurity breaches and handling alleged bicycles and most recently the loss of an unborn child.
Pangai Jr and his partner Anna Inoke were forced to say goodbye to their daughter Georgia after she was born dead in August at 24 weeks.
The NRL star was told Georgia would be delivered early in a training session and traveled from soccer camp to be with his wife during the difficult ordeal.
‘It has been especially hard for my partner, but I try to be there as much as possible. It hit me hard,” he said.
“Ultimately, people see us as overpaid footy players and entitled, but we’re just as human as the public and this hurt me.”
The grieving couple, along with other family members, held a funeral service for their daughter Georgia Lose Galilee Pangai in Brisbane on August 15.
Today, Pangai enjoys his time on the field thanks to his efforts off it, striving to become a better “family man.”
He said it’s thanks to someone who knows all about career reversals — former Wallabies outcast Cooper.
The couple are family friends but became very close during last year’s COVID-19 NRL lockdown and trained together in Brisbane almost every day.
Pangai Jr and his partner Anna Inoke were forced to say goodbye to their daughter Georgia after she was stillborn at 24 weeks in August
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Pangai said.
“He still talks to me every day about the daily grind and making sure you do the little things.
“He taught me not only how to be a good player…but also how to be a good person, a good family man.”
Many were surprised when Cooper recently ended years in the rugby wilderness to make a triumphant Wallabies return – but not Pangai.
He said Cooper was the ultimate pro during lockdown training, which became known as the ‘5am club’ due to its gaping start time.
“I knew all the hard work he did. I’m very happy for him,” Pangai said of Cooper’s latest success.
“He (Cooper) taught me what it takes to be a good athlete.
“There are some good players here at Penrith, but he is on another level with his professionalism.”
Pangai said the only one who got close to Penrith was NSW lock Isaah Yeo.
“He’s like Quade. He puts a lot of time into his game,” he said.
“He’s an 80-minute player and that’s where I have to go. I asked him many questions.’
Pangai’s time with Penrith is almost over.
But he believed the club would never be far from his mind when he is joined by current Panthers Matt Burton and Brent Naden at the Bulldogs next year.
“A few players come with me to the Dogs and there’s (Bulldogs and ex-Penrith football boss) Gus (Phil Gould) too — I think he’s still a Panther at heart,” Pangai said.