Talakai finding his feet again in Cronulla’s middle

Scott Bailey |

Siosifa Talakai’s good form is one of the reasons behind Cronulla’s rise to the top of the table.
Siosifa Talakai’s good form is one of the reasons behind Cronulla’s rise to the top of the table.

Siosifa Talakai has taken to watching old videos of himself playing in the middle as he adapts to life back in Cronulla’s forward pack.

The answer to an injury crisis in the middle a month ago, Talakai has now found a home amongst Cronulla’s forwards during their rise to the top in 2024.

Still a centre at heart, Talakai will face his hardest challenge in the middle on Saturday in their top-of-the-table clash against Melbourne.

And while there is no fear in facing the likes of Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Christian Welch, Talakai is still relearning what life is like in the middle.

“I still feel a bit rusty, I find myself in situations where I’m still a bit unsure and not as confident as I would be at centre,” Talakai told AAP. 

“But it’s all a learning experience again. I’ve got Cam McInnes, Braden (Hamlin-Uele) and especially Dale (Finucane) I can ask a lot of questions to.

“Sometimes I pull up old games just try and figure out and remember what it felt like. 

“I feel like I’m getting better and feeling more comfortable as each week goes on.”

One of the most destructive centres in the game, Talakai had the most try assists of any player in the position last year.

But a lack of fit forwards in Cronulla’s roster, combined with the emergence of Kayal Iro, prompted Talakai to put his hand up to move to second row in March.

He has since moved one further in, defending well in the middle while offering the Sharks invaluable versatility off their bench for the past month.

“It’s just another thing I can add to my resume, which is not a bad thing,” Talakai said.

“If I had it my way then I would have loved to go back to centre. 

“But our culture is it’s whatever the team needs. If the team needs me to play here, then I’ll put my hand up and play here.”

Talakai’s move comes in a crucial year for Cronulla’s forwards.

The Sharks pack has flown under the radar to become one of the NRL’s best middles this year, with most of the group now entering the prime of their careers.

The rise comes ahead of Addin Fonua-Blake’s arrival next year, with several players admitting in pre-season this is a make-or-break year for Cronulla.

“I feel like we’re hitting those (prime) years. Especially after the pre-season we had,” Talakai said. 

“We’ve also got stand-out players, especially younger players learning from us more experienced players. It’s healthy for the club. 

“It’s just brought the level of standard higher. It shows out on the field. A lot of our players are in form. It’s hard to pick a player who’s not at the moment.”
 

AAP