IN HIND­SIGHT: BRA I THAN A ST A

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - – Jeff Cen­ten­era

WHENWE catch Braith Anasta, he’s still rid­ing the high of the birth of his new daugh­ter, Gigi. He ad­mits he hadn’t thought much yet about the com­ing rugby league sea­son, but that would soon change – the 288-gamer for Can­ter­bury, the Roost­ers and Wests Tigers has made a seam­less tran­si­tion to the me­dia since his NRL re­tire­ment in 2014, work­ing as a com­men­ta­tor for Fox Sports. It’s a job he had pre­pared for while he was still play­ing, and one he rel­ishes: “It's the

clos­est I can get to be­ing in the game, the pres­sure of live TV.” In many re­spects, Anasta’s play­ing ca­reer tracked a path that can be dis­tinctly ob­served in rugby league star­dom to­day: from teen hot­shot to early suc­cess, a big-money move to over­bear­ing pub­lic scru­tiny. Hav­ing gone through it all, Anasta is clear-eyed in his view. “I’m telling you how it is,” he in­sists – so In­side Sport was ea­ger to get his take on why the stars go to the Roost­ers, will Brad Fiœler be a good coach for NSW Ori­gin, and what it means to be called “over­rated”, among other things.

You were a highly touted Souths ju­nior, but you had the mis­for­tune of Souths be­ing out of the com­pe­ti­tion in 2000 as you were about to crack first grade. What went into your de­ci­sion of where to sign?

I played all my rugby league com­ing through the grades, and I was a Souths sup­porter. Ev­ery­thing was Souths.The only rea­son I le was be­cause they were kicked out of the com­pe­ti­tion. My as­pi­ra­tion even at 16, 17 was to play first grade, and hope­fully – al­though I didn’t ex­pect it to hap­pen – I wanted to play within a year.

That’s the ul­ti­mate goal when you’re a young fella. As soon as Souths was gone, I had to find some­where else to go. It was the Roost­ers, Mel­bourne and Can­ter­bury. My un­cle, Ge­orge Pig­gins, was good mates with Arthur Coorey and other mem­bers of the board at the Bull­dogs. He was en­cour­ag­ing me to leave be­cause he wanted me to achieve my dreams.

It was tough. The Bull­dogs was the call I made, and it was the right call in the end. But I have no doubt: if Souths hadn’t been kicked out of the com­pe­ti­tion, I would have played my whole ca­reer there. It was just shock­ing timing for me.

Was there a cru­cial fac­tor in go­ing to the Bull­dogs? Was it your un­cle, or was stay­ing in Syd­ney im­por­tant?

Syd­ney was a big thing. My dad had passed away only a cou­ple of years be­fore, and my mum was by her­self. Mel­bourne im­pressed me, the set-up they had.That was a tough one to knock back. I had to elim­i­nate them be­cause I wanted to stay in Syd­ney, be­cause of my fam­ily. And at the time, funny enough, Roost­ers were the enemy to Souths. Even though they were in­ter­ested, I hated them ...

The big thing that stood out with Can­ter­bury was, they were the type of club that would look a er me. The fam­ily club, they had a strong board, the Mor­timers, the Hugh­e­ses. My mum and all ofus thought that’s where I fit in the most. I was go­ing through a tough time even though I was do­ing well in rugby league. They were hard, too – dis­ci­plined and tough. They were the best pos­si­ble club at the time. They were so suc­cess­ful, and they were the fam­ily club. I don’t know if they’re quite there at the mo­ment; they’ve lost that aura.

You won a pre­mier­ship in your fourth full sea­son with Can­ter­bury. I re­mem­ber ask­ing your old Roost­ers team-mate An­thony Minichiell­o about win­ning one as a young player, and he talked about not ap­pre­ci­at­ing it prop­erly. Did you have the same ex­pe­ri­ence?

Yep, and if you have suc­cess early, you think that’s just the way it is. You talk about Mini, sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, like the Roost­ers back then, we were top-four for three or four years. Come straight into grade, mak­ing semis ev­ery year, won the pre­mier­ship by 21 or 22. You don’t un­der­stand at the time. You’re elated; it’s the best feel­ing ever. But you still don’t un­der­stand what you’ve achieved un­til you re­alise how hard it is to achieve it. And that only comes with time and play­ing many sea­sons ... You def­i­nitely ap­pre­ci­ate it more a er win­ning and see­ing how hard it is to get back there.

Did you have a later team that you felt was as good or be„er than the ’04 Bull­dogs, but just

didn’t get over the line?

That team we had in 2004, we had some ex­pe­ri­enced heads, but we had guys that would go on and have big­ger and be er ca­reers. We had no weak­ness; ev­ery­one was tough, ev­ery­one was born to play. I don’t think I would’ve got close to hav­ing a squad like it aer that, when I think about it.

When we made the grand fi­nal in 2010 with the Roost­ers, we just had a dream run. We had a young

team – when we lost that grand fi­nal, I was dev­as­tated. I’m sure Mini was too. The se­nior guys were rocked by it. I knew I was, be­cause I’d taken so long to get back to that stage.

I re­mem­ber we were on the team bus on the way home, and all the young kids, they were just happy to make the grand fi­nal. We’ve got mad Mon­day, they were singing and hav­ing a drink. And I’m si ing up the front think­ing: th­ese guys, they don’t know what they’ve just missed out on; they might not get an­other one again. And in turn, a lot of those guys got one three years later. I knew they were go­ing to win it, be­cause I knew they had that same feel­ing, how lim­ited those op­por­tu­ni­ties are.

You made what has be­come the well-es­tab­lished move to the Roost­ers. What is it about the club that is so al­lur­ing to play­ers?

I’ll tell you what it is – when you sign with the Roost­ers, you’re in the Eastern Suburbs, and I don’t care what any­body says, it’s a great life­style. You’re ge ing paid good money to live in a beau­ti­ful area and play the sport you love.

That’s a fac­tor as it is. Then you’ve got ar­guably the most suc­cess­ful – well, a group of them – man to be in­volved in rugby league in Nick Poli­tis. He can re­ally help you in a lot of ways on and off the field. Apart from be­ing men­tors who can steer you in the path of be­ing suc­cess­ful, they can help you with op­por­tu­nity, they have con­nec­tions through­out 

busi­ness world ... There’s so many things the Roost­ers of­fer that other clubs can’t. I know a lot of peo­ple get the shits about it, fans of other teams. Be­cause they can’t pro­vide that, they are at a dis­ad­van­tage. But the Roost­ers are in a po­si­tion to do that, and that’s the dif­fer­ence.

You see that with the likes of Tedesco and Cronk. They could go any­where and prob­a­bly get more money. But Cronk wants to get his univer­sity de­gree, andTedesco was a Roost­ers sup­porter – he wants to win a pre­mier­ship. And again, that’s an­other thing. They’re al­ways up there, and if they’re not, they’ll make sure they are. And that’s ap­peal­ing to a player.

You played for Brad Fi ler. How do you think he’ll go as New South Wales coach?

I’m a big fan of Fred­die. When he first got the Roost­ers job, we had in­stant suc­cess, but over time, it was too early for him. And I think he’d ad­mit that. He’s had some time over the last few years to get to know coach­ing – he knows the game be‚er than any­one – and get used to the po­si­tion.

When he was my coach, apart from my first years at the Bull­dogs, he got the best out of me. I liked a bit of a chilled coach, but one who also had be­lief and con­fi­dence in you.That was a trig­ger for me, and he knew that. He’s very smart, but he’s also one of the boys. And he had to find that bal­ance, be­ing one of the boys and be­ing the coach. He looks to have found that. The most im­por­tant thing is to sur­round him­self with the right peo­ple, which he’s done – the fact he’s got Joey [An­drew Johns] and Bedsy [Danny Buderus], they’re fan­tas­tic guys. They’re suc­cess­ful at Ori­gin level.

You bridged the era of NSW’s last three-peat and the start of Queens­land’s streak. You’re a golfer, so you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate: ev­ery tour­na­ment win­ner gets a li le luck on their way to vic­tory. Has that been a fac­tor in the eight-straight, or did you see a dy­nasty com­ing in 2006?

I didn’t, you know. We won in 2005, I was a part of that, and in 2006 we won the first game, lost the se­cond and I got dropped. AŒer that, I never thought it would get to the dom­i­nance they had. I respected their play­ers, thought they were fan­tas­tic. But still – Slater wasn’t Slater yet, Cronk wasn’t Cronk. Thurston was close, but they weren’t the play­ers they are to­day.

That’s a good anal­ogy – you do need a li‚le luck, es­pe­cially to keep a streak like that. But then again, and I’ve lived by this, you make your own luck. Those guys put them­selves in po­si­tion to get the bounce of the ball, be­cause they’re still in the game – when some­times they shouldn’t have been.

How do you think Mitchell Pearce will fare with the Knights? Will a change of scenery in New­cas­tle do him good?

I love Pearcey. It’s a tough one. For some­one who’s been suc­cess­ful for such a long time, peo­ple still have ques­tion marks over him. One de­mon he’s al­ways had to ba‚le, he’s al­ways had high ex­pec­ta­tions. The Ori­gin thing has been tough; I think it’s af­fected him.

I was speak­ing to him be­fore he made the de­ci­sion, and he was torn. He was blind­sided by the Roost­ers. He was dis­ap­pointed. I thought New­cas­tle was a great move for him be­cause the ex­pec­ta­tions are not as high. The life­style thing

for me is garbage – he’s just bought a place in Coogee. I don’t think that comes into it. It’s more: he’s got his mates there, a team that’s im­prov­ing, and he can re­lax. If he makes the semis, it’s a suc­cess­ful year. If he just misses out, it’s still not a bad year.

On the sub­ject of the a en­tion that play­ers can get lumped with: the “over­rated” la­bel, which fol­lowed you around later in your ca­reer. What was your view of that? Has work­ing in the me­dia changed the way you un­der­stand it?

It hurt my footy ca­reer, be­cause I was a very con­fi­dent player. I think Pearcey is a very sim­i­lar case. You come through as a young player, and you’re dom­i­nant in your age. What makes you so good at what you do is you’re just in­vin­ci­ble – you be­lieve you’re beer than any­one else, you can win games when they’re on the line. You know no other way. When you’ve got your own play­ers and fans doubt­ing you, you ques­tion your­self. It’s only nor­mal. Rarely it won’t af­fect your game – a big part of be­ing suc­cess­ful at any­thing is con­fi­dence. You lose a bit of it.

But I go back to: to be over­rated, you’ve got to be rated first. When I got my “most over­rated”, I’ve got guys who were dead-set 50-gamers who couldn’t throw a pass vot­ing on whether I’m over­rated or not. But re­ally – if I’m 18 years of age and I’m on the back page of the pa­per and ev­ery­one’s say­ing I’m the next Fred­die Filer – I don’t blame some­one go­ing, “He’s not Filer, that’s bull­shit.”

For a long time at the start of my ca­reer, I was play­ing good rugby league.There was so much hype and talk that I’d play an av­er­age game, and I’d read my name in the pa­per the next day – I thought, “I didn’t even play that good.”

So I un­der­stand how it hap­pens; the me­dia beats you up. If you don’t reach that ex­pec­ta­tion, the only way to go is down.

What’s your sur­prise pre­dic­tion for 2018?

I think Par­ramaa is go­ing to do re­ally well. We all know Mel­bourne, Roost­ers, Cow­boys will be there. I love Brad Arthur, and touch wood health­wise, Guther­son, Moses, Nor­man.They’ve got a mo­bile and skil­ful pack. They can get hot, and they’ve had a good off­sea­son, I’ve heard.

Mitchel­lPearce, fel­lowBlue. ARoos­t­eri­con, but­theend­came with­theTigers.

GFs are hard to win: con­sol­ing Martin Kennedy af­ter 2010. ‰ Š Lin­ing up for coach Fred­die at the Roost­ers.

A teenaged hot­shot on de­but in 2001 [], Anasta was soon rev­el­ling in pre­mier­ship glory with the '04 Dogs.

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