Once a way to earn extra pocket money off his older cousins who would come to watch his games, Jeremiah Nanai's ability to score tries now has him on the verge of securing a place in the NRL record books.
With 17 four-pointers to his name this year, the 19-year-old Cowboys second-rower sits just three shy of equalling Manly back-rower Steve Menzies' record for the most prolific try-scoring season by a forward in the NRL era.
Menzies set the record with 20 tries in 1998, the year the NRL was formed, having previously scored 20 in the 1996 ARL season. His 1995 ARL season was even more fruitful, with 22 tries scored, but three of them came in games where he started at centre rather than in the forwards.
In addition to the record for a NRL forward, Nanai is within reach of Matt Bowen's record for most tries in a season by a Cowboys player (22 in 27 games in 2007).
Nanai adds to his impressive 2022 tally
Nanai admitted to NRL.com that he hadn’t heard of Menzies until people started to quote his record recently, but has since taken a keen interest in the Sea Eagles' legends feats.
“It would mean something to me personally if I get that record. If I keep scoring tries then we will see how I go, hopefully I can make history," Nanai said.
“I'd never heard of [Menzies] to be honest until I started watching a few of his highlights. He was good player and I can learn from him… [even though] we are totally different players.
“I'm chasing that Cowboys record and I'm trying to beat Murray [Taulagi]... Murray is coming up and getting more tries and he's not too far from me, so we might have to have a friendly wager and see who wins at the end of the year.”
Nanai – who singled out his round 9 try against the Knights as his favourite so far this year – equalled the haul achieved by Titans forward David Fifita in 2021 with a try against the Warriors last week.
Big men aren't supposed to move like that
As a child he said he was usually physically bigger than most opponents and he scored his fair share of tries at junior level.
"Yeah I used to score a little bit, especially being the biggest kid, I scored a fair few tries. But it's crazy to be doing it in the big league," Nanai said.
"My first year of footy I think I scored about 16 tries over about 13 or 14 games.
[From mum and dad] it was just 'good game son' and we would go and get some KFC. My cousins would come and say 'if you score this try, score three or four, I'll give you some money'.Jeremiah Nanai
Cowboys centre Peta Hiku, no stranger to the traits of prolific scorers himself, having been the centre partner to David Fusitu’a when he led the NRL in tries scored with 23 back in 2018, told NRL.com Nanai’s mix of skill and natural talent makes him an incredibly difficult player to defend.
Nanai intercepts and outpaces the defence
“It’s pretty crazy to see what he can do… he can compete in the air, he's got good footwork, he can pass a ball,” Hiku said.
“You can't just narrow it down to being a good runner – if someone's a good runner you just put your body in front of them – but he has multiple ways of scoring and I think that's what makes him so good.”
Match: Rabbitohs v Cowboys
Round 24 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
Provided he stays injury free Nanai should have at least four games left to try and break the records, with two regular season games remaining and second-placed North Queensland all but assured of playing at least two finals matches.