Home Australia The 12 minutes and 35 seconds driving this Wests Tigers powerhouse

The 12 minutes and 35 seconds driving this Wests Tigers powerhouse

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A man passes the ball during rugby league training.

It is 12 minutes and 35 seconds that drives the Wests Tigers enforcer, Stefano Utoikamanu.

It arrived last year, on his State of Origin debut for New South Wales. Utoikamanu, a player long expected to one day make his mark on his state, was a surprise selection for the Blues’ trip to Lang Park in the second game as they battled against the odds to keep the series alive.

Queensland were already 10-0 when they came on five minutes before half-time. It was 16-0 when he came out seven minutes after the break and that was it. That was all the time he had on his maiden voyage in sky blue.

A lifetime of waiting and work ended in a little more time than it takes to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody twice, a footnote in a 32-6 Queensland brawl.

Utoikamanu’s State of Origin debut ended after just 12 minutes. (Getty Images: Bradley Kanaris )

Utoikamanu was not retained for the third game and was not named in new Blues coach Michael Maguire’s 36-man training squad over the summer, but after his excellent start to the season at the Tigers, he has every chance. of adding a lot more time to those 12 minutes and 35 seconds.

“He (Maguire) called me back when I didn’t get picked in that 30 or 40 or whatever. It was a bit disappointing at the time, but I understood where he was coming from. I just want to show him that. I’m prepared for it and I have to be on that team,” Utoikamanu said.

“I also had a meeting with him last week just to tell me what the whole Blues thing is going to be about because there are new coaches and new people there.

“I definitely want to be in the Origin team this year. I want to see our club be at the top where it should be. Anything I can do to achieve that, I’ll be there.”

Origin is still a few months away, but Utoikamanu has been at his best so far, leading the Tigers from the front in recent weeks, including in their epic win over Parramatta on Easter Monday.

The 23-year-old is playing the best football of his career: he is averaging 130 meters gained per game and has 15 missed tackles in three games, which is a third of what he had all of last season.

The athletic front row is also using his experience to great effect both on the pitch, where he has strived to pick up the pace each time he returns to the pitch for his second spell, and off it, where he is attempting to utilize his experience. emerge as leader of Benji Marshall’s new team.

“Take a look at the players around, I have Api (Koroisau) helping me, Benji, I think the whole coaching staff has also helped me become a better player,” Utoikamanu said.

“I was a little disappointed with our first loss against Canberra. I felt like we didn’t go out and do what we normally do in training. I felt like these last two weeks we were taking ownership of everyone’s roles.

“Me, as a bit of a leader in this team now, I like to lead on the field with my actions.

“I’ve tried Origin football and there are a lot of guys in our team who are very good young players. I just want to show them that you have to go out and earn it.

“Every week you have to earn it. Every week you have to show up.”

Adding 12 minutes and 35 seconds to that is in the back of Utoikamanu’s mind, but he understands that any chance of doing so starts with the Tigers.

There are plenty of players whose first chance at Origin doubled as their last and with Utoikamanu desperate for a second chance at a first impression in sky blue, he knows a strong season from the Tigers as a team will help them get there.

“As much as I want to be the best player I can, I need to do everything I can to put our team in the best position to win. I think when you’re winning it’s easier to get picked on those types of teams,” Utoikamanau said.

“It’s hard to get to Origin Footy when your team isn’t doing the best. In Origin Footy you have to be prepared. I felt like physically I was ready for it, but mentally I wasn’t.”

The mental aspect of the game is the final frontier for Utoikamanu. He has been an imposing physical specimen throughout his life in the sport and work ethic has never been an issue either; Until recently, he always trained on Christmas Day, just to try to find an advantage.

But all that hard work can only take a player, even one as talented as Utoikamanu, so far and for him that’s what helped the Tigers to their surprising start to the year, which they hope to continue Saturday night against the Dolphins.

“This game is huge mentally. It takes a huge mental toll on you. We’re all pretty similar physically. You can only lift as many weights as you can,” Utoikamanu said.

“But I think the mental aspect of the game is the most important thing that we all need to improve on.

“This year has been huge for us, a lot of guys are improving mentally, especially me. It helps you gain confidence every week.”

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