LAGI Setu sees a defitinite parallel between his first day in Birmingham two years ago and the evening that Leeds – 192 km to the north – has in store for him this Friday.
At the start of 2011, Setu was putting on his “pressed white shirt, neat trousers and a tie” for the first time and heading out to approach strangers in the street at the start his Mormon mission. Early today, the Samoan international is expected to be named in coach Craig Bellamy’s 19-man squad for the World Club Challenge against the Rhinos at Headingley.
“It is daunting, like the first time I had to just randomly walk up to someone and ask ‘hey, how’s your day’,” said the 24-year-old, who as Will Hopoate intends to next year, has returned from his church duties to the world of professional sports.
“I’m pre-thinking they’re going to say no, they don’t want to listen to you.
“I guess that’s similar to the game. Sometimes you get these thoughts, like ‘hey I might slip up’. I’ve come to learn … throughout my mission, never doubt it. Never doubt what people are like. You’ve just got to attempt it.
“With the game, I’m not going to focus so much on what’s going to happen. I’m just going to let it come.”
The former rugby union player signed with St George Illawarra for the 2006 season and transferred to Brisbane in 2010. He has 64 first grade games to his name but Setu will see a gap closing on him differently after having a similar experience with the front doors and minds of some Brummies.
“You’re meeting people on the streets – they see you as a stranger,” he says through gleaming teeth. “People can be standoffish, only because they don’t know you.
“I met those kinds of people but I also met people who were willing to open up and understand. I came to understand different principles that in life it would have taken me a long time to understand.”
It took Setu – whose actual involvement in the WCC remains unconfirmed – a full year of his sabbatical to decide he wanted to return to rugby league. He then had to negotiate in his one-hour-a-week permitted email period.
“I wanted to come back and prove that you can do something if you really put your mind to it,” he says in the foyer of the Leeds Marriott. “It’s never too late.
“I’m 24 but a lot of young lads, they think that if they don’t make it by the age of 19 or 20, then that’s it. They’ll want to just hang the boots (up) and go and find something they’re comfortable with.
“But I wanted to put myself on the edge. I knew it was going to be tough. I ran (on the mission) because I had to get from one appointment to the other. And I was riding a bike. So if you count that as exercise, by all means, I did exercise, but…
“I wanted to prove myself, to see what I could do at a tough club. It was hell. There were moments where I was thinking to myself ‘this is it, I’m going to give up here.’ All pre-season, I was holding onto the edge but I never let go. That’s one thing I promised myself: that if I came to this club, I wouldn’t let go.”
Many of Setu’s fellow missionaries in Birmingham, the birthplace of heavy metal rock, had no idea he was a professional athlete. He has caught up with some on this trip. And having lived in England so recently, he has some credibitilty amongst his younger Storm team-mates as an expert on English culture.
“Yesterday me and Mahe (Fonua) were talking about how they don’t say ‘hello’, they say ‘you alright?’,” Setu says. “He found that interesting. You go 15 minutes down the street and you get a different accent.”
Setu has met Hopoate, who will join Parramatta next year, a couple of times.
“I know a little bit of (Will Hopoate). I got to have Christmas, New Years Eve lunch with him. The man enjoys it, he enjoys helping people and that’s what it is.
We’re not commissioned in our mind to believe things. It’s something we came to understand and experience … ourselves.
“I think the biggest misconception people have is that they believe we are conditioned, brainwashed. But we’re not.”
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD