Run, Johnny run!
Take a glance at the weekly stats for the leading metre-makers in the Intrust Super Cup competition and amongst the expected names of experienced forwards like Nat Neale, and the NRL-contracted centre Marion Seve, is that of winger Johnny Faletagoa'i.
Playing for the Mackay Cutters, he started his time at the club as a centre – but standing at 185cm and weighing 115kg (for comparison, Jason Taumalolo is listed as 191cm and 113kg) – they moved him into the backrow in his second season with the club – with mixed results.
“We tried to convert him into a damaging backrower and he was doing a few good things, but he just wasn’t consistent in his game, so we put him back down to local league here with Norths and he spent about a month there (last year),” coach Steve Sheppard said.
“He got an opportunity when we were a bit short on the wing and we put him out there and he had a really good game and knuckled down his spot and worked really hard.
“He’s been doing some really good things for us; he’s carrying the ball for 15 carries a game and making 150m plus every week.”
Coming into Round 8, he has actually made an average 169.1m per game, with 471 of his total metres being made post-contact.
Now his third season with the Cutters; Faletagoa’i made the move from Auckland to Mackay as he was looking to play “anywhere that would take me” – but he enjoys being with the club and laidback North Queensland lifestyle.
“When I found out the Cutters were interested in me and the level was at (Intrust Super) Cup level, I just couldn’t turn it down,” he said.
“I love it; I like the small town; I am not a fan of traffic or being in the car too long.”
While Faletagoa’i may see himself as “one of the vets” at the club, he is still only 23 and developing his game, with Sheppard admitting they were working together to improve on certain areas of his game.
“The challenge at the moment is getting a good balance between strong carries and making sure defensively he’s doing his job as well,” Sheppard said.
But there is no denying he is a player who is willing to put in the effort and that explains why he’s been making such distance on the field this season.
“With the metres, I think when I first got here, or even when you are younger – you see the game as outside backs being sort of flashy and scoring tries; but in the squad this year, I’m obviously the biggest in the back five, so the yardage game is what I had to focus on.”
Although he is putting in the hard efforts at training, Sheppard said Faletagoa’i is also good to have around the squad to help lift the mood.
“He’s great to have around the group, he’s just a real character to be honest and … he’s a relaxed sort of bloke and then he will come out with these really funny stuff,” Sheppard said.
“He jokes around a fair bit, he can sing a little bit and he’s a little bit of a joker, he’s a little bit of an actor and he’s got a few little tricks up his sleeve and he lightens up the room when he’s in it.”
Style Inspiration? Johnny Faletagoa’i quite admired Salesi Funaki's hairdo.
As a joker, it is therefore unsurprising to find out he is quite a fan of the Intrust Super Cup’s Haircut of the Week concept, having himself sported a questionable style last season featuring peroxide blond curls at the top of his head, earning him the nickname ‘Noodle Head”.
“It was actually a sledge from one of the other players who was, ‘I’ve got the big noodle head over here’ and it sort of caught on,” he laughs.
“I am looking of dyeing it another colour this year, cos I see (Salesi) Funaki had a nice mullet at Wynnum …
“But Pupp (Sheppard) has said to me if you keep playing the way you are playing; you can have any haircut you want.”
Fans of the Intrust Super Cup will no doubt be keeping an eye out for that might be – while opposition players will be looking to bring him down as he charges into the line from his position on the wing.
>> The Mackay Cutters host the Tweed Heads Seagulls in the Round 8 Channel 9 (QLD) TV game which will be broadcast from 1pm on Saturday, April 28.