Paul Whaturia has had an amazing 11 year professional Rugby League career. On face value you would think he had it all his own way. Two NRL premiership rings, a Super League stint & 16 test caps, a fine achievement but there was a host of battles and adversity he faced along the way.
He was never the biggest or the fastest but he knew how to play the game. It was in his blood with the Rugby League strong amongst both his family and the community he lived. In 2000 a fresh faced 19 year old would debut for the Warriors before finding his way to the Melbourne Storm to try and find more opportunity. Struggling to break through he would find himself cut from the team before a life line from the Panthers would change his fortunes.
Despite all his setbacks, he never took a backward step determined to stay disciplined and work his way back into the professional ranks. As I mentioned he won two premierships, think about players like Andrew Ettingshausen one of the greatest of all time who never won a premiership, you will see how great an achievement it was. However footy isn’t life and he has had to endure a period of depression and mental illness while also seeking to find his identity away from the game. I had the pleasure to sit down with Paul or Fatz as he’s also known.
This is the story of Paul Whatuira. It’s honest, inspirational and an account of someone taking responsibility for his actions. Listen to the entire episode below or continue for my key takeaways and stories from our powerful chat.
ORIGINS IN WAINUIOMATA
"Wainuiomata has 16,000 people so it’s not so big. You have to go over a hill to come inside it, it’s like a little volcano suburb. It’s a humbling place to be raised, we have our own beach and mountains. It’s a very humbling town which had some hard times and great times. Had some absolute legends be raised like Tana Umaga, Billy Weepu, Piri Weepu, David Faiumu, we’ve had a few sports people come out of Winuiomata and it is a sport community and we all know each other’s business, it’s very close knit"
CHOOSING RUGBY LEAGUE
"My father player rugby league and he played for the Kingfishers at premiership level. My brother played so I grew up with it. Winuiomata did so well in the late 80’s early 90s to win the national premiership and that’s what we did. My dad was a prop, I was small, and a late bloomer and I was one of the boys that never made a rep side. I had the determination, when you grow up in New Zealand there are some boys who are men at the age of 12 with beards and the growth. Physically I couldn’t keep up with them but my determination couldn’t be questioned. Once I started and develop at 15/16 I found that balance"
“It’s important to control your emotions and over the last 2 years I’ve embraced myself with my culture and more about my Maori culture and I have found that as a positive thing to keep me healthy and well. With the Haka it’s an emotional War dance you are calling upon your ancestors and the history of your family and our country. You are soaking up that spirit and strength in but controlling the emotion and making sure it doesn’t get on top of you, it can be draining. So it’s about keeping that balance, understanding who and why you’re doing the Haka for but also bringing it back down and staying relaxed and balanced when you finish”
FINDING HIS WAY TO PENRITH
"I was at the Warriors at the age of 18 then moved to the Melbourne Storm and was cut. I had to move to Brisbane and had to continue that drive and passion and work hard behind the scenes when nobody was watching. It’s funny how things happen. I was playing with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk and it was a TV game. Shane Richardson, the Penrith Panthers CEO was up in Brisbane. It was a TV game and I had a pretty good game and he said to come to his hotel. I didn’t know who he was but found out pretty quickly. I didn’t even look at the contract; I just said when do you want me there? He said see you in 3 days. I still believed in myself despite the setback. I worked hard at training and trying to be the best person I could be. It gave me a stronger drive to succeed"
2003 GRAND FINAL WEEK
"That whole week was fantastic, we didn’t change our routine, kept things the same. We had more duties but John Lang kept it as simple as possible and relaxed. We enjoyed the week, for this year we stuck to the routine and it worked. We were the minor premiers but the odds were against us so all the pressure was on the Roosters so we just focused on ourselves"
THE SATTLER TACKLE
"It was a relief, if you see the highlight reel, I’m 50 metres behind, and I had hair then. That was a game changer right there and put us on the front foot if he scored it could have been a different story"
THE PANTHERS GAME PLAN
"We trained hard and had fun. John Lang was a caring person, but he bought confidence in Joe Galuvao, Rhys Wesser, Tony Puletua, and Preston Campbell. We had the most basic game plan. Benny Ross & Joel Clinton headed straight, then it to Puletua and Galuvao on the edges to work their magic and let Preston Campbell play off it. Such a basic game plan playing off individual talent"
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TIM SHEENS & THE WEST TIGERS
"Tim Sheens is a great man, I have a lot of respect for him. When I came to Concord to think about signing I came on a morning when the boys were training so that kept their current players on their toes. He said this is what you need to work on and I believe I can make you a better player. It wasn’t all the pats on the back telling me how good I was it was more how better of a player he could make me so that was the selling point right there, I also wanted to be a leader and the attacking centre I knew I could be"
"As we get older our bodies don’t recover as fast as it’s used to, his training well he’s like a young teenager with his ball skills. His still got his timing we all saw it in the games he played for the Broncos. It’s a matter of looking after his body and a bit of competitiveness. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met, even when you’re playing cards he wants to win. We need winners and his definitely a winner. His very vocal on and off the field in a positive way, he treats every one with respect and has a good nature, he's a good man, the King of Concord, the King of the Tigers"
"Becoming a father triggered memories from my own childhood some hardships growing up and it triggered the not so pretty things that happened in my childhood and that was a downfall in my health. I suffered depression for four months and I had 7 nights with no sleep and suffered psychosis. I role played situations throughout that seven days and made up scenarios and when you don’t get sleep you mind can play games on you. By the seventh day I was hearing voices and I needed help. I was taken to the hospital but escaped like a mad man. The police stopped me, I was tasered and thrown in the jail cell. Unfortunately I assaulted two men, all I can do is send my apologies and I wish them all the best"
ADVICE ON MENTAL HEALTH
"Medication and professional help is needed, but sometimes I believe people can get mis diagnosed. I don’t have a degree in psychology but I do have a degree in pain, what I did was during that 5 years I was heavily medicated but I learnt to be the captain of my own ship. I educated myself, read countless books and courses and challenged those negative thoughts. I honed my skills, being grateful, the importance of sleep, the importance of sharing stories and giving and the power of now focus on the present moment. I love learning I was always at the back of the class at school, now I’m at the front asking questions"
WHEN THE PATS ON THE BACK LEAVE
"The pats on the back, the finance and easy access to certain things like sponsorship for myself you can think you’re better than everyone else. But when you retire all the pats on the back are gone and who are you now? I struggled with Identity for a number of years. Sharing my vulnerability and the values and tools I live by and giving back. I had to go through my hardship to understand the legacy I’d like to leave behind, it’s funny how things can happen"
FINDING HIS IDENTITY
"It was pretty much a 5 year gap. I went through some mental health issues and trying to find my identity again. I moved away from home at 17 and when I retired I was struggling for identity. I only knew myself as the Rugby League player and once that was finished – who am I next. In that 5 years it was pretty much trial and error. I went from Personal Trainer for a year to not doing well at that to labouring to window glazing at the 5am grind then back to PT wiser and started to grow and get that self confidence back. I started too educated myself and stepped into the public speaking area. My first gig was in front of Todd Greenberg and other NRL welfare offices and that’s how I got my job"
There were so many great takeaways from the podcast. I appreciate Paul being so honest particularly with the bad times, I do love the fact he accepts full responsibility for his actions and is looking to use his own experience to help educate others in living a better life.
As Paul continues to develop both personally and professionally, I feel inspired to practice and improve my own ability to practice gratitude and be very mindful of our wellness practices. Communication and regularly speaking to our friends and family seems to be an important ingredient in maintaining not only strong relationships and a strong mind and soul
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