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Tai chasing NRL dream after stunning debut season

Rodrick Tai always had a vision for how his first year in the Hostplus Cup would go.

But as he prepares to run out in a Dolphins NRL jersey in Saturday’s trial clash with the Central Queensland Capras in Gladstone, not even he could have predicted the meteoric rise he has had.

The versatile centre, winger and second rower made his debut for the PNG Hunters in Round 1 of the 2022 Cup season, fresh out of Papua New Guinea’s Digicel Cup.

In the 12 months since, Tai has cemented himself as a regular starter for the Hunters, earned his international debut with a strong campaign for the Kumuls at the Rugby League World Cup, and is now one of four PNG players on a train-and-trial deal with the Dolphins.

Next stop is Saturday’s trial, with his eyes also set on hopefully securing a fulltime NRL contract.

But whether or not that contract becomes a reality, the 24-year-old Mt Hagen product is relishing every opportunity and still cannot believe how far he has been able to push himself.

“Last year was a very big year for me,” Tai said.

“To make the Hunters squad, play a lot of games, then go to the World Cup and to get to come here, it’s been a very big year. I’m just stoked. I cannot believe it. It’s been good.

“Obviously everyone has their own goals and dreams. They were some of my goals but I didn’t think I would have achieved all of this at the same time.

“That’s what (has me) stoked. I’m just so happy that I made it.”

Rodrick Tai at Dolphins NRL training. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Rodrick Tai at Dolphins NRL training. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

Tai came to the Hunters last year after playing with the Lae Tigers in the Digicel Cup for three seasons, winning two premierships during his time there.

He also recently completed a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics, which he made his priority before joining the Hostplus Cup team.

He said the highlight of his 2022 was making the Kumuls side and playing at the World Cup, but his goals were now focused on getting himself an NRL contract.

The Hunters contingent are throwing everything they have at their opportunity with the Dolphins – often among the last on the training paddock – and Tai said he was soaking up as much as he could from the experience that was around him.

“We were training with the Hunters for the pre-season and they said they had a partnership and four of us were going to come here and train with the Dolphins,” Tai said of the moment he found out he had a train-and-trial deal.

“It was sort of unexpected because there’s a lot of boys. The squad is huge and it could have been any four but I’m just glad I got picked to come here.

“It’s been good so far. There’s a lot of new things, the intensity is a bit high, but after the World Cup, everything is a bit similar. It’s good to come straight into another (high-intensity environment).

“We just try to work on things we need to improve. They’re always telling us to work on things so we’re trying to do that.

“Tommy Gilbert has been a good influence. Everything I see, he’s always on the go, wanting to do things. After training he is always doing extras. That’s what I admire from him.

“Hopefully after the train and trial, I get to stay back. That’s the main goal and I’m trying to achieve that right now. That’s my goal.”

Tai will play in Saturday’s trial alongside fellow Hunters Judah Rimbu and Sherwin Tanabi.

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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