Robert Tuliatu is the ultimate amalgamation of Greek and Samoan poise and power. Born to a mother with Cretan heritage, and a Samoan father means that the 25-year-old rugby league athlete is full of fiery passion and resilience.
“My parents gave me the opportunities that I have now and pushed me to get an education and made me sort of as balanced as I could possibly be and knowing that not one thing is going to give you a whole meaning in your life. You need to balance things out,” he told Neos Kosmos.
Although at first glance people may not guess Tuliatu has Greek heritage, his connection to his grandparent’s motherland runs deep.
“My pappou and my theio Gianni were instrumental in shaping the person that I am now. My pappou used to love playing skaki and I sat with my theio Gianni who was a well travelled man as well. He was the first person to take me to Europe. I went on a six week holiday with him there when I was 18. We went to Greece when I was 16. He was really charismatic, he was a bit of an enigma and I’ve probably been shaped by them the most,” he said.
Tuliatu currently plays with the Cessnock Goannas and has been a solid fixture in the Greek national team, but he knows that only hard work will keep him there.
“I was part of the squad that would have been going, had the World Cup taken place in 2021, but now that it’ll take place in 2022 they’ll have to reselect the squad again. Hopefully I’ll be there, but like I said, you never know,” he said.
Tuliatu talks bringing the game to Greece, having an eclectic personality and hopes to travel once again.
What drew you to rugby league?
I played other sports but rugby league was the first sport that I played, back when I was four. I played the under 6s twice.
There were other sports scattered in between, but rugby league is the one that I’ve played for 22 years now.
I’ve been playing so long I don’t even remember how I started playing but I guess what kept me playing for so long was all of the friendships that you make along the way and the challenge of that sport. After every game you’re always bruised and battered and it feels like something that sets it apart from other sports and the toughness of that game.
Having other people around you who are all experiencing the same thing, I think is a unique feeling. I can remember when we [Greek National Team] played Scotland, the first 20 minutes were not going our way. I looked over at Terry [Constantinou], and he looked at me and we knew exactly what the other person was thinking. It’s comforting to know that there’s a set of people out there who are all going through exactly the same thing and that you’re willing to work for them and they’re willing to work for you.
It’s game day, what do you do to get in the zone before the match?
I prefer to be asleep as long as possible before game day, so if we’re playing late I prefer to wake up as late as possible.
I actually don’t like to eat. I don’t know what it is, it might be superstitious, but like I will not eat within eight hours of the game and then I’ll also go for a swim in the morning.
So if I do wake up, I’ll go for a swim, then I’ll go back to bed, sleep as much as possible so that I don’t feel nervous at all. And then I’ll try to go into the game with as little in my stomach as possible.
Top three training songs?
I like something that’s a little bit more funky, as opposed to aggressive. I like that Lauryn Hill song, Doo Wop (That Thing). I’ve also been listening to Ms. Fat Booty by Mos Def and then probably Middle Child by J Cole.
What do you find most challenging about the game?
All the things that I find challenging, I also enjoy. So probably the physicality is the most challenging part, but it’s also the part that I enjoy the most.
There’s so much training that goes into it. Before we had our last internationals, I had an eight week programme that involved trading in the gym for twice today and running but it’s also making decisions under pressure in a game. You’re 30 minutes into half, you’re really tired, you’ve got guys coming out your speed, momentums against you, and you have to be physical and smart at the same time.
What has been a highlight in your sporting career thus far?
It’s all the games I’ve played for Greece, every single one of them. Every time I play, I play as if it’s going to be my last game, as if 100 Greek players are going to come out of the woodwork and they’re going to take my spot, so I’ve got to be appreciative every time I get to put on the blue and white jersey.
How has rugby league impacted your life?
I wouldn’t have known a lot of my closest friends if it wasn’t for rugby league. I have a group chat which still gets a run at the moment with some of the boys from that side.
I also wouldn’t have had the opportunity to live overseas. I would have never lived in Greece, I would not have lived in Wales or in England. If it wasn’t for rugby league, I wouldn’t have travel to places like Ukraine and South Africa. If I didn’t play, my life would be completely different.
It really shapes who you are as well. It teaches you how to work in a team, how to do something in order to help somebody else. It teaches you discipline. You learn these things that are not necessary for kids to learn until they’re an adult, but you learn that when you’re quite young because you need them in a in a game.
What is something you learned about yourself through playing the game?
That I will cry every time I pull on a Greek jersey, no matter if we win or lose. It’s a little bit of a running joke at the moment but I’m not embarrassed by it.
What do you hope to achieve in the next year?
I have my eyes set on going back abroad and trying to play in the northern hemisphere and going to the World Cup. That, and just being as fit as possible regardless of any of the results of the World Cup I just want to play best that I possibly can. I control the variables that I can control and everything else I’ll leave to fate.
What’s something someone might be surprised to learn about you?
I have a degree in philosophy and a degree in law. I love the ballet, I love musicals, love art. I’m a little bit of a bohemian, I suppose.
Favourite way to unwind after a game?
Oh an argileh after a game! The boys know that after a game I’m on the hunt for a shisha bar or if we’re close to home, I own nine so there’s literally nothing I enjoy more after a game than a shisha.
What are you most looking forward to in 2022?
Making it to the World Cup as fit and healthy as I can possibly be. Outside of rugby league, I just started working in a law firm in Newcastle a couple months back so my admission ceremony will be soon so I’d love to be able to get a full year of legal experience under my belt and try to be as good, a lawyer as I could possibly be.
It was nice to get a ‘W’ during the lockdown, to get my degree and then finish my college.
What is something you want to be remembered by?
It would be that I helped the game of rugby league grow in Greece. I think that it has the potential to be a really popular sport in Greece and it started to grow now and we’re starting to gain momentum.
A couple of years ago we only had four teams and now there are nine in the Greek Rugby League competition including a team in Albania. And the more that it grows up, if I was going to be remembered for something it wouldn’t even be the games that I played for Greece, or the games in England or Australia or anything like that. It would be that I helped a burgeoning game grow.
I would love to be able to coach in Greece. I don’t know how well that goal works with being a solicitor, it’s quite busy.
Every time I’m there, I get dragged into doing coaching clinics, and when I say dragged, I’m more than happy to do it. I’ve been on five hour trips to go out for a team to do a two hour training session, and then gone five hours back home and loved every minute of it. So if I was to find myself in Greece I’d be more than happy to coach a team there. But we will cross that bridge when I’m too old to play.