WAKA PACKS A FI­NALS PUNCH

Burleigh favourite set for stun­ning switch to box­ing af­ter lo­cal rugby league de­cider

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - SPORT - CON­NOR O’BRIEN @obrien_GCB

ON the cusp of a rare three­p­eat, Waka Wanahi is about to give league away to pur­sue his long-held box­ing dream.

Af­ter help­ing Burleigh to a Gold Coast Rugby League pre­mier­ship in 2015, Wanahi called it a day. It was then that he was go­ing to be­gin his box­ing jour­ney, only to even­tu­ally be talked into an­other sea­son of footy by Bears Queens­land Cup coach Jimmy Leni­han.

The diminu­tive winger had played just five state league matches at that point across his long Bears as­so­ci­a­tion.

But as fate would have it, he went on to be­come a main­stay – even a cult hero – of Leni­han’s side that charged to the ti­tle, break­ing the club’s 12year drought at that level.

Wanahi re-signed with Burleigh for 2017 but has failed to add to his QCup ap­pear­ances.

But while the Cup side had a mixed sea­son to fin­ish ninth, the 27-year-old has for the third straight year found him­self in a de­cider, lin­ing up at 3pm to­mor­row at Pizzey Park against resur­gent Run­away Bay in the GCRL ti­tle match.

“I don’t be­lieve I’m a lucky charm; I’m just blessed to be in those spots at the right time,” he re­flected, mod­estly.

Wanahi has played 15 games this sea­son but has only hit his straps in re­cent weeks, de­liv­er­ing ar­guably his best show­ing of the year in the 24-4 win over Tu­gun that pro­pelled them into the fi­nale.

He re­vealed much of his 2017 has been hurt by a knee in­jury suf­fered in an ex­hi­bi­tion match play­ing for Queens­land Maori against Queens­land Samoa late last year.

“I tore my PCL and my leg gives away every time I run or take off so it has given me a lot of grief,” he said.

“It is just com­ing right and I can barely feel it now.”

Wanahi had hoped to re­tain his QCup place but ad­mit­ted he sim­ply didn’t de­serve to.

“A lot of boys trained a lot bet­ter and played a lot bet­ter and I can’t just say it was be­cause of my in­jury. No, it was be­cause of my form,” he said.

The big Seag­ulls side en­ter a first de­cider in 12 years af­ter stun­ning de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Tu­gun in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal.

Re­gard­less of the re­sult, Wanahi is com­mit­ted to his “new jour­ney” that in­volves trad­ing boots for gloves.

“I have al­ways, al­ways wanted to do box­ing,” he said.

“I have just al­ways wanted to give it a go. I am 27 now. If it’s not for me, I can al­ways come back to footy.

“I need to learn the ba­sics, where I am at in my level of fight­ing and if I am ac­tu­ally good enough. Ev­ery­one wants to be world cham­pion.”

Pic­ture: MIKE BATTERHAM

Burleigh Bears favourite Waka Wanahi is ready to fin­ish up rugby league and chase his box­ing dream.

Pic­ture: MICHAEL BATTERHAM

Bears winger Waka Wanahi will trade footy for fight­ing next year.

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