Sam Thai­day opens up about his three loves: fam­ily, footy and food.

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

Life & Style Weekend - - WELCOME // INSIDE TODAY - 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.

PHOTOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

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

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