Sport NRL rookies: Franklin Pele - Cronulla's answer to Jason Taumalolo ready to be unleashed in 2021
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Throughout the 2021 NRL season, Sporting News will be profiling some of the game's emerging young stars who are tipped to make a name for themselves this year, talking to them about their rugby league journey to being on the cusp of their NRL debut.
Most footy fans who claim to have their finger on the pulse would be familiar with Franklin Pele. If not for the name, then for his size.
The 20-year old front-rower - all 190cm, 125kg of him - is right on the cusp of slotting into a monstrous Cronulla forward pack that is already among the most imposing in the competition.
Kiwi-born, Pele and his family made the move to Australia when he was seven and rugby league was always his dream.
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He spent a year playing in the juniors for St. George, before now Sharks coach John Morris convinced him to make the move to the Shire as a 15-year-old. Sorry, Dragons fans.
Where did everything start for Franky Pele?
I was born in New Zealand, in a tough place in South Auckland. But I moved over to Australia when I was seven, so I don't really know what the hardships over there were like
Most of my family's still over there and I go there twice a year or when I can to see them
Living in New Zealand, when did you realise rugby league was your game?
I started playing when I was four years old for a club called Otahuhu Leopards.
My uncles and my old man all played footy back home, and I knew it was what I wanted to do since a young age.
I knew I wanted to be a rugby league or rugby player, the All Blacks are big over there too, but I feel like I didn't really see myself doing anything else growing up in school
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Were you ever tempted to pursue union instead of league?
Not really. I did all my school over here and it was all footy stuff and union isn't as big over here, I guess.
How about that moment you and your manager got that call from Cronulla?
I think I wouldv'e been 12 years old and there were the first development kind of squads there, so I played with them up until about 14s.
I played a year of Harold Matts at St. George and had a good year there and then ended up getting a call from Bomber (John Morris), he was the junior development (manager) back then and he brought me over here to play Harold Matts and I've been here ever since.
He's known me since I was a kid.
You joined the top 30 NRL squad for the first time last year - how was that first experience, rubbing shoulders with the biggest players in the game?
That was my first year but I was only on a train and trial deal for pretty much all of last year.
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I was pretty nervous when I first came in. But when you see them everyday and you're training with them every day, you get used to it.
I like training with them, they help me get better and help me to where I am now, so I'm really grateful for them.
Who are a couple of the players who have had a huge influence on you since joining the first-grade squad?
Just the front rowers in general, playing the same position and they see a big guy like me coming through.
They've pretty much just told me the do's and don't's and during the scrimmages and they help me get a better understadning of everything.
You've got Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, Braden Hamlin-Uele - all internationals and rep players - they must be a huge help for your game?
100 per cent. They've all played top level footy and done it all in the game. Just learning from them, they're probably the best teachers I can learn from in the NRL.
I always gravitate towards them.
Who's a player outside of Cronulla you've tried to model your game on?
I like watching Jason Taumalolo a lot. With the ball he's really damaging.
When I was growing up I really like the old school front-rowers like Mark O'Meley, Shane Webke kind of players. Really tough and into the gritty stuff, and I really like that style.
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The Dally M votes are in.
But I think Jason Taumalolo is a different type of player. I really like watching him.
What do you see as your short-term goal this year and your ultimate goal as a player?
Get a debut sometime this year and I think it all starts now during pre-season. I've just got to keep training hard and put myself in the best position to play
I think my footy will do the rest of it on the field, and hopefully I can achieve some bigger things on top of that as well.
For the rest of my footy career I want to be a really consistent player and really want to make a name for myself and also be a good person as well, as much as a good player.
Is that something you've learned off some of the senior players, being a role model off the field is just as important?
100 per cent. The club in general, they're all good people and my parents as well, I learned a lot from them. They'd say that alot, just being a good person off the field is going to make you a better player on the field.
How about away from training, in your off time from training what do you like to get up to?
Me and my partner just moved next door in the new apartments next to the stadium.
They've got heaps of pool upstairs so I usually just chill up there, relax in the pool, read a book or just chill and have some downtime
When I'm not doing footy it's just relax and when I come here I try and put everything into here.
I want more for the NRLW in 2021 .
In what was an exceptionally difficult year for all of us, the NRL managed admirably in 2020. Not only was the NRL the first Australian domestic sporting competition to return to screens during COVID-19 (thanks Peter V’landys), but in a year when there was significant pressure to reduce spending and potentially a temptation to cut costs across women’s sport, the NRL reaffirmed its commitment to the NRLW.