Big Sam’s got the fryday nerves
The thought of cooking for 11 strangers is giving the Broncos star some restless nights
THERE isn’t much that can rattle “Slammin’’ Sam Thaiday.
Charging into the New South Wales defence, well, that’s all part of the job as a Queensland Origin heavyweight prop.
Cooking for a party of 11 people he’s never met before, now that’s going to create some butterflies in the big man’s stomach.
But it’s the task the jovial giant happily accepted as part of his ambassadorial duties for a new campaign that supports ‘your local fruit shop’.’
The Brisbane Broncos great will don an apron to serve up what he hopes will be a delicious dinner party for the winner (and 10 of their friends) of a competition being run as part of the promotion.
The pressure is already telling.
“My brother-in-law is a cook and a butcher. He does all the pre-prepared meals ... family pies, lasagnes,” Thaiday says. “I’ve already sat down with him and talked about a menu. “It’s probably the most nerve-wracking thing about the whole campaign.
“I’m more than happy to stand in front of the camera and say a few lines down the barrel, do an interview like I am with you now, but the cooking, for me, is what makes you most nervous. “I don’t want to stuff someone else’s food up.”
Excuse the gratuitous plug, but “Your Local Fruit Shop’’ is what has brought us together, and he is passionate about it.
Thaiday lives with his young family – his wife Rachel and daughters Gracie, 4, and Ellsie, 2 – in Samford Village, just outside Brisbane.
“It is literally a village, and the guy in the local fruit shop, he works hard to make sure he’s got the fresh produce in there,” Thaiday says.
“I’m all about trying to support the little guys over the big American corporations that come in and try to bully them.”
For Thaiday there are three main passions – family and footy, of course, and then food … be it cooking it, eating it, discussing it.
He does know his way around a kitchen.
Outside of what has been a great rugby league career have been appearances whipping up some culinary delights on Celebrity Come Dine With Me and in a series of popular television advertisements for NRMA Insurance.
But this larger-than-life character admits he can be a little unconventional.
“I’m not a big recipe follower,” he admits. “I’m more about sights and taste and smell – if it looks good, tastes good, smells good. I’m one to just add stuff. I get in trouble, especially if Rachel’s cooking ... she’ll tell me to get out.”
Though born in Sydney, Thaiday recalls growing up in Townsville, and going fishing with his dad Billy, a Torres Strait Islander. They were some of his happiest memories as a child.
“What dad taught us as kids was you never waste any part of the fish,” he says. “Everything gets eaten.
“I think that’s why I don’t go fishing down here in Brisbane or the Gold Coast. I was too spoilt as a kid in Townsville.
“You had the best of both worlds. You could go to the creek and catch barramundi or head an hour out of Townsville and catch some beautiful reef fish … go diving around some of the islands and catch crayfish.”
After a star-studded junior career with Townsville Brothers, Thaiday moved to Brisbane as a 17-year-old to become a Bronco.
There, coaches like Wayne Bennett taught him about the game. But it’s also where his appreciation of food gathered momentum. More importantly, the right food.
“I was a young football player who moved away from home at the age of 17. I could probably cook spaghetti bolognaise, rice and make a home-made pizza, so there wasn’t too much I could cook.
“But we had a dietician at the Broncos called Holly Frail, and she took a few of us players under her wing and did a few different cooking classes at her house.
“Then I started watching more cooking shows on TV; and a lot of people started buying me cooking books for birthdays and Christmases.
“As we travelled away a lot with the Broncos we’d eat at a lot of nice restaurants, and that gave me an opportunity to taste different foods.
“But probably the best bit of advice that I received as a football player was, at the end of the day, you need to treat your body as if it was a high-performance car. It’s all about putting the right fuels in to make sure it runs at 100%.
“But, portion sizes, that’s probably the biggest problem for rugby league players.”
Thaiday is now passing on his knowledge to his daughters. But how does he go with getting Gracie and Ellsie to eat their fruit and vegies?
“It’s hard with kids. You have to hide things,” he says. “And we like to mix it up with the way we cook our vegetables … steam them, barbecue them … so they can taste them in a different way. We always try and have a Sunday roast.
“You want to make sure they are eating the right things. You want your kids to be healthy, make sure they have lots of energy.
“I’m a lot more educated about my food now after many, many years of playing football and having full-time dieticians around us.”
But as you would expect from a lovable larrikin renowned for his off-field antics such as lip-syncing to Celine Dion in carpool karaoke or twerking behind his coach’s back, it’s far from all serious at home.
“The whole concept of game-day routine is thrown out the window because you’ve got kids,” the 31-year-old says.
“I do remember as a young player, before a game I had to go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, go to the same cafe, eat the same food. It was very, very strict.
“Having kids, all those things start to change … but they give me an opportunity to be more spontaneous, and just really enjoy your time.”
The 264-game veteran is not quite done with rugby league yet – there are more NRL premierships, Origin series and even World Cups to try and win – but his thoughts do drift to life in retirement.
Having dabbled in the cafe business before – running Drinc Cafe in Brisbane with Broncos teammate Andrew McCullough – he may look to open a small restaurant.
“Maybe when I’ve got a little more time … it will be something really small, keep it simple,” he says.
But there will certainly be some travelling – and tasting what the world has to offer … literally.
“There’s still a few things I’d like to try as an adult. I’d love to get over to France and try some frog legs and snails.”
Locally sourced, of course.
STAR IN THE MAKING: Sam Thaiday has spent all of his NRL career at the Broncos, debuting in 2003 at the age of 18. In 2008, he was named in the indigenous Australian rugby league team of the century.
◗ Sam Thaiday the foodie, left, and with his daughters Gracie and Ellsie and wife Rachel, above.