Big Sam’s got the fry­day nerves

The thought of cook­ing for 11 strangers is giv­ing the Bron­cos star some rest­less nights

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - BY Terry Mallinder

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.

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

◗ Sam Thai­day the foodie, left, and with his daugh­ters Gra­cie and Ellsie and wife Rachel, above.

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