Siosifa Talakai slowly pulled up to his parents’ Mascot home and turned off the car engine.
With the keys still in the ignition, he leaned his head back into the driver’s head-rest, closed his eyes and began to cry.
“What am I going to tell my parents,” the Sharks forward still remembers.
Waiting on the other side of his front door were his family – his mother and father, three sisters and two brothers.
These were the people he played rugby league for.
Every month, a portion of his South Sydney contract money would go to them.
But now, parked out the front of his family home halfway through the 2018 season, Talakai had to walk inside and tell the faces staring back at him that the final year of his contract at South Sydney had been shredded.
“I just didn’t know what to tell them,’’ Talakai said.
“I’d just been sacked by the South Sydney board.
“I was coached by Michael Maguire and trained alongside Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis, John Sutton and Adam Reynolds.
“Then it was like my whole world in front me ... just disappeared.
“I never thought I’d play first grade ever again.”
On Sunday afternoon for Cronulla, Talakai will run out against Parramatta at Kogarah’s Jubilee Oval.
The 23-year-old former Junior Kiwi has only played eight previous games for the black, white and blue, but already his fearless and barreling charges with the football have transformed him into a fan favourite.
With 18 tackle busts so far this season, Talakai has been tagged by league immortal Andrew Johns, as the clone of former Tongan international Konrad Hurrell.
“I can see the resemblance — not too tall, a bit wide,” Talakai smiles.
But Talakai’s journey back to the NRL is superior to that of any wrap from a rugby league legend.
“I was a South Sydney junior rugby league player, I went through the system and made my NRL debut back in 2016,” Talakai said.
“I played 11 games for Souths in the NRL.
“But I started the 2018 pre-season and I had quite a bit going on.
“I think I was still too young, I didn’t know how to handle the pressure from footy and pressure from being the main income earner for home.
“I was turning up too late to meetings, I wasn’t in the right headspace and just really didn’t want to play footy any more.
“I only really stayed in footy because that was my main income.
“I don’t really drink much, but in 2018 I would drink quite often. I found myself drowning myself in alcohol to escape. It wasn’t good for myself at all.
“It all came to an end when I had to go front the South Sydney board, who ended up sacking me.
“I remember them telling me and I was still in shock. It didn’t quite hit me until I had to go home and tell my family.
“Mum and Dad, they were not disappointed, but they weren’t happy either.
“All they wanted for me really was just to have a good life, better than what they did in Tonga.
“I wasn‘t sure what I was going to do. I had no club, I had nothing. I needed to get help for the state of depression I was in.’’
After being cut by Souths, Talakai met with former Penrith general manager Phil Gould in June 2018, which resulted in Talakai playing the remainder of the year with the Panthers reserve grade.
“But I got to the end of 2018 and with no firm offers, I was ready to hang the boots up, I turned to waste management company URM and became a ‘garbo’ to earn an income,’’ he said.
“We’d get up at 4am and meet at the yard to get everything ready and I’d run the streets of Leichhardt and Balmain flipping bins.
“You know what, I enjoyed it. I started to focus on the little things, I was alive, I was well. I was able to make a bit of income.
“I kept quite fit running up the hills.
“The last thing I was thinking about was footy.”
Then came a call at the beginning of last year that sparked the fire that remained burning within for Talakai and allowed him to fall back in love with the game he first began playing as a junior with the Mascot Jets.
His cousin, Wesley Lolo, a former forward playing with Newtown in the NSW Canterbury Cup, asked Talakai if he wanted to come and train and play with the famous old Jets.
“At Newtown they’ve got a great system, the coaching staff and CEO were great and just allowed you to enjoy your football,’’ Talakai said.
“I started to enjoy my footy again and my manager called me and said the Sharks were willing to give me a train-and-trial contract for the 2020 pre-season.
“I wasn’t too sure about it, to be honest. I was a bit scared and embarrassed because I had given up on my dream of playing first grade and making it back.
“But I changed my mindset and that was just to win everything and to do my best to secure a contract as a top-30 player.
“After receiving a contract to join the Sharks top-30 in March, my next goal was to get an contract extension beyond this season and a starting spot.”
Last month, Talakai extended his future with the Sharks until the end of 2021 and this afternoon he‘s starting in first grade after forcing Kiwi Test backrower Briton Nikora out of the side.
“They (Sharks) offered a two year deal and I said no, because knowing myself, I think I work harder if I’ve only got a one year deal,’ Talakai said.
“I didn’t want to get complacent like I did at Souths. It will keep me on my toes.”
So what‘s next on Talakai’s list of goals for 2020?
“Win the premiership,” he said.