At one stage during his demolition of the Sea Eagles, he handled the ball with just his giant left hand, while using his right to swat away Manly defenders.
In the opening 29 minutes, Talakai scored two tries and set up another three – including one with an outrageous infield kick for Will Kennedy after a long break – to put his name in front of mind for NSW coach Brad Fittler, watching meters away on the sideline .
“The more you can get little wins [over your opponent], you start to build confidence as well. I guess you start to show your skill. ”
Talakai finished the match with 238 running meters from 19 carries, 11 tackle busts and three offloads, torturing opposite Morgan Harper so badly Des Hasler hooked his center at half-time. Harper was only days out of isolation having missed last week’s game with COVID-19.
“It’s just a little win,” Talakai said. “The more you can get little wins [over your opponent], you start to build confidence as well. I guess you start to show your skill.
“It simply came to our notice then. If my back-rower Teig Wilton doesn’t hold up [Daly] Cherry-Evans and stop Morgan Harper for that little bit of space … it’s not just me, it’s our whole edge.
“We did a bit of footage on their whole right edge. We knew they were tight and they would jam. I tried to take him on the outside a few times and he adjusted quite a bit. He knew that I was going to try to take him on the outside, and I saw him become a bit aggressive, so I thought I’d take him on the inside and I pulled it off.
“Every game is fun in a way, but I haven’t had one like it [Thursday night]. It was pretty special. ”
One clever wag even managed to change Manly’s Wikipedia entry after the Talakai demolition.
Their owner is apparently Cronulla’s new cult hero, who excelled at Little Athletics as a schoolkid and was a state 1500-meter placegetter for walking in his age group.
So, is there any way to defend Talakai in the centers?
Talakai by the numbers
- Tries: 2
- Try assists: 3
- Carries: 19
- Tackle busts: 11
- Offloads: 3
Matthew Johns argues if the Sharks are going to play a 100kg beast, usually at home in the forwards, out wide then rival coaches should also consider playing their own big back-rowers in the centers, rather than a lighter body like Harper.
But there’s little credit being given to the men inside Talakai, who are a huge factor in his early-season success.
Craig Fitzgibbon’s attacking formation has such fluency and depth – highlighted by the slingshot tactic – opposition defenses can’t rush Talakai to cut down his time before he builds momentum.
But can the 25-year-old, who will next week play his 50th NRL game, be the answer to Fittler’s left-center conundrum if Latrell Mitchell is unavailable?
Penrith’s Stephen Crichton, Brisbane’s Cotton Staggs, South Sydney’s Campbell Graham, St George Illawarra’s Zac Lomax, Newcastle’s Bradman Best and even Canterbury’s Matt Burton are all options. Perhaps his best chance of an Origin debut is a bench forward, who can play back row but also be used in the middle or at center.
Asked about his representative eligibility with Tonga due to play a mid-season Test against New Zealand on the same weekend as Origin game two, Talakai said: “I definitely want to make myself eligible for NSW.
“With Tonga being a tier two team, I know I can play there as well. I want to try to make Origin first and hopefully I get to represent Tonga [too]. I want to represent my parents, I owe a lot to them.
“I did an Emerging Blues camp two years ago and I’ve done a little bit in SG Ball. I loved watching [Fittler] play when I was younger as well. Hopefully I get the opportunity to play for the Blues and grow with him by my side as well.
“I had a point to prove with last year not being up to standard.”
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