League: Palavi stirs up a lot of palaver

By Michael Brown

Hard work and application are two qualities which have guided this players life.

It's hard work and focus that has got John Palavi on to the playing field. Photo / Richard Robinson
It's hard work and focus that has got John Palavi on to the playing field. Photo / Richard Robinson

Matt Elliott thinks the Warriors should hire a private investigator to look into John Palavi's background.

Before the NRL's integrity unit gets too concerned, the reason the Warriors coach suggested it was because he believes Palavi is too perfect.

In his final year at Auckland's St Paul's College in 2010, Palavi was not only dux and head boy but also won 19 of the 21 awards available to him. He was school athletics champion, speech champion ...

"He didn't win the swimming, maybe," St Paul's principal Mark Rice joked.

He won a full scholarship worth $30,000 to study a health science degree at the University of Auckland and plans to be a surgeon. It's only a burgeoning league career that is delaying that ambition.

"When you start hearing about his background, it's mindblowing," Elliott said. "His CV is going to be eight pages long. Humble kid, great in the group. There's got to be something wrong with him. We need to get a private investigator in to find some sort of fallibility so I can burrow in there and be annoying about it."

Elliott loves winding his players up. He probably takes more enjoyment in seeing them develop and he said Palavi demanded selection for the Warriors' season opener against the Eels in Sydney tomorrow. If Elliott wasn't already convinced, a number of Palavi's teammates also urged the coach to pick the 21-year-old back-rower for the game in the absence of Ben Henry, who is playing for the NSW Cup side this weekend as he makes his way back to full fitness after a serious knee injury.

Things didn't look quite so promising for Palavi 12 months ago. When Elliott first saw him play after arriving at the club, he certainly didn't think Palavi would be first-grade material by the start of the 2014 season.

"I reckon it's just hard work," Palavi said. "I just really wanted to make it and play this year. To put that jersey on and make my debut on Sunday is amazing."

Hard work and application are two of the main qualities which have guided his life to date. "He's an achiever but also a worker," Rice said. "He was very disciplined and worked hard at school and is a real goal setter. He also comes from a really great family and faith is a really important part of his life."

Rugby league is also a dominant feature. He played junior league at Point Chevalier and was selected for the St Paul's first XIII at 14 and went on to win three national secondary schools titles. Among that side were fellow Warriors Sione and Sam Lousi and Siliva Havili as well as Sosaia Feki, who is now at Cronulla.

He joined the Warriors development programme at 15 and played for the under-20s, captaining them in 2012, and last year was Auckland Vulcans rookie of the year.

It was during his time with the development squad that he mapped out his future.

"Joe Vagana took me to a health course at Auckland Hospital and a mate and I ended up in theatre," Palavi said.

"We weren't supposed to be in there. I found everything the surgeon was doing so exciting and I asked lots of questions. From that time, I had an interest in health."

He's still studying part-time and hopes to finish his degree next year but, for now, rugby league is the priority.

"It was a hard decision to put [my academic career] on hold, especially as my parents always wanted me to go through the education pathway," he said.

"But it's been my dream to play for the Warriors. I will return to medicine once my footy career is over."

- APNZ

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