By STEVE MASCORD
HE hasn’t made “the decision” yet. But as Joe Galuvao’s eyes dart around his loungeroom in western Sydney, no doubt catching the moon boot on his right leg in their periphery, he concedes: “It looks like it’s the last game I’ve played”.
Previously, it’s fair to say, nothing could stop Joe, now 34. Not poverty. Not distance. Not indifference. Not pain.
He was left without a future and with massive debts when the old Auckland Warriors went broke. He was nudged out the door at Penrith (where he won a premiership), banished to Brisbane at South Sydney, and languished in the NSW Cup at Parramatta.
And he fought back to win a second premiership, at Manly in 2011. That was two years ago. Galuvao says he gone into too many games since then without an injury.
But a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered on April 14 has done what CEOs, coaches, and a movie star could not. It’s brought down the curtain on a career that hasn’t just been “remarkable” or “decorated” – it could rightly be described as inspiring.
The distance Joe has been travelling to training each day is underlined by the fact that after a mix-up with a car, your correspondent spends $164 in cab getting to his abode.
“I’m looking to finish up,” says Joe, quietly spoken and still somewhat immobile due to that moonboot. “We haven’t really made a decision yet, it’s for me and my wife to discuss.
“It’s a bad way to go.
“When you go from training and playing every week to doing absolutely nothing, it’s a shock to the body and mind
“It’s one of the principles I’ve learned over the years – keep batting on. You can’t control who picks you, you can only control training well and playing well and having a good attitude.
”I’m doing a diploma in business, project management, and also a cert three and four in fitness.”
So the time seems opportune to hop in the Delorean, Tardis or Wellsian thingy with a spinning wheel on the back and take a spin through the Career That Could, beginning back in 1998.
WARRIORS (1998-2000): “I wasn’t really driven to play first grade. I was just happy where I was. I think I took it for granted. I just thought talent would keep me … that I would just lean on my talent. I’m not saying I didn’t put in any hard work but I didn’t understand the importance of hard work. I heard it all the time, from guys like Stephen Kearney and Awen Guttenbeil and the Terry Hermanssons and Phil Blakes and Brandy (Greg Alexander), when he was there. They said ‘you’ve got to work hard and do extras’ but for me, I just wanted to have fun. “
PENRITH (2001-2005): “I was with the Warriors and when they folded I was kind of at a crossroads where I had to make a decision. When they went broke. I had nothing. Me and my wife, we had a kid and our debts were just …there was nothing there for me. I had no other aspirations, I’d never worked, it was just footy. It was my fault. I was being naive, thinking I could play footy forever. When you’re put at a crossroads and you’ve got a young family on top of that, at some point you’ve got to grow up. I was at that point.
“When you’re faced with desperation, you’ve got to fight. I had to look at my own principles and my beliefs. I had to change that. Coming over to Penrith was a real time of change, me growing up as a person. I realised I had a family to look after and bills to pay.
“It was that emotional (to win the ’03 premiership). I was crying. It wasn’t because we won. I got to look back at where I came from. I couldn’t believe it. My mind kept going back to my family – my sisters, my dad, just the people that helped me and really encouraged me, really held me accountable when things were getting tough. My mind just kept going back to them and I wished they were there.
“I just wanted to share it with them but also my wife, my daughter, doing it for them and knowing where we came from – that’s what made that year so special. For me, it was a reward for being persistent and changing my life.’
SOUTH SYDNEY (2006-07): “A lot of that story was taken out of context. Russ (Crowe) didn’t tell me to leave and join the ministry. He mentioned I was involved heavily in church and he wanted to know where my loyalties lay at the time. I was doing a lot of church stuff, things in the community ….
“…which was kinda hard … because I’m going ‘other guys are doing things in the community as well’. For me to have that questioned, when the real issue was they wanted to free up money..
“If anything, I was grateful that they sat me down and were straight-forward with me and didn’t beat around the bush.”
PARRAMATTA (2008-2009): “I was 18th man for, like, a million games but I was playing for Wenty as well that year and we made the grand final and won. That was probably one of the happiest years. I enjoyed my football. Just playing with the guys, they were awesome. James Maloney was our half and Justin Horo was there so it was a pretty good team.”
MANLY (2010 to present): “I contemplated retiring because no clubs, at all, offered me anything. All of a sudden, my manager rang me up and said ‘what do you think about going to Manly?’ I wouldn’t have even thought about Manly.
“Before I met up with Des (Hasler), I was just thinking they probably weren’t even interested in me. I thought they were just being polite. We’d have a meeting, I’d say ‘hi’ to Des, you know? Then, when I got there, Des just sold me. He said ‘we really believe in you and we believe we can get the best out of you, we’ve got a proven track record of looking after older guys, you’ll love Donny (Singe, trainer)’. When you hear that from a coach, I would have signed for a dollar.”
For the last three years, Galuvao would catch a train from St Marys to Wynyard and then a bus to Narrabeen for training each day.
“People would come to me and say ‘are you Joe Galuvao?’ I’d say ‘yeah’ and they’d say ‘I thought you were heaps bigger’ They’d think I was six foot something.”
Joe could have earned big money playing in England, with or against fellow “hair bear” Tony Puletua. But he has no regrets. “It wasn’t right for our family,” he explains. “It was hard enough for us to move here to Australia … just with our parents getting on and that.”
And so next year he hopes to be working alongside Tony’s brother, Frank, and Nigel Vagana at the NRL, trying to help Polynesian players deal with the pressures of NRL stardom. It’s a big issue in light of what happened this year to Alex Elisala and Mosese Fotuiaki
“To lose two guys, both Pacific Islanders, points to the fact there must be a problem, you know? Like in all businesses and companies, everyone has risk management in place and I think it’s no different in the NRL.
“There is a risk, especially in light of what’s happened this year. Whatever the circumstances, we’ve got to learn to manage them. The risk is extreme, to the point where people have passed away.
“We’ve got to put things in place to help those guys out culturally.
“We’ve had people there who are Australian and their hearts are in the right place and they want to help out Pacific islanders but the pure fact they’re not Pacific islanders, they don’t understand the culture.
“But having Nigel and Frank Puletua there, it’s really given us a voice.
“I’m a big believer that, in order to enact change, we’ve got to have the people in the positions. “
Joe believes a Pacific All Stars team would be a focal point for the NRL’s community involvement with Polynesians.
And so, after a similarly rocky but ultimately uplifting football career, Joe Galuvao now shapes as the man most likely to make a difference, to be the Polynesian Preston Campbell.