Nemani Nadolo on nearly quitting rugby at 23, coronavirus and Leicester
By Sky Sports Rugby Union
Last Updated: 18/03/20 6:21pm
Nemani Nadolo, the biggest back ever to play professional rugby, chats exclusively to Sky Sports about coronavirus, signing for Leicester, his well-travelled career and almost giving up the game at the age of 23...
One of the game's most recognisable figures, Nadolo was speaking as a guest on this week's episode of the Will Greenwood Podcast, and in a wide-ranging interview, the Montpellier wing touched on the mental health issues he faced early in his career.
The Fiji international revealed that back in 2011, after a short stint in the Premiership with Exeter Chiefs, he came very close to giving up a career in the sport altogether.
"Exeter were looking for an outside-back to cover and they offered me something and we went from there," he said.
"I moved over in December or January - and it was cold! But I'm only 22 then and still feel young as a rugby player.
"The experience was phenomenal and I enjoyed my time there, but off the field I was still wild, still trying to have fun and it got the better of me one night.
"The evidence is all out there that I got done for drink-driving and paid the price.
"Looking back on it again, it's another experience, another learning curve, and it helped me grow. I have no excuses for what I did wrong.
"At the time my mother and father had just divorced, so I became the man of the house so to speak, to make sure my two brothers were good - they were in school and primary school respectively.
"A few times I went into some dark places and dark times, because I was always worried about providing for them. And that was the biggest thing for me: providing for my family and my mum, who was a single parent.
"The onus was there, and at times you could say I faced a bit of depression, but I didn't know what it was back then. I just knew that alcohol would solve everything.
"I was 23 and those decisions got me in trouble, and it was best I moved back home.
"I had a chat with Rob [Baxter, Exeter head coach] one day, and said: 'If there was an opportunity to head home and be close to my family, would you allow it?' And I have so much respect for Rob, he said 100 per cent and wished me all the best.
"It was a short conversation but one which sticks with me today.
"I moved back to Brisbane and I was going to give up the game then. I was going to go to work at the mines in North Queensland.
"I was content because I thought I had tried, and I was happy with what I'd achieved, and at the time you think you know it all that young.
"Then, I was at home playing touch rugby with my mates and an opportunity came to go to Japan.
"I looked at it like a second chance and from there, that's where it all started from. My career started to take off."
"Leicester have a massive history...hopefully we can turn things around"
At 6ft 5in and 21 stone, Fiji international Nadolo is a behemoth on the flank and has been one the deadliest wingers in terms of tries within Europe for several years.
At the beginning of the month, Leicester Tigers announced they had signed Nadolo to a contract from next season. So what attracted him to the East Midlands club?
Just tell em already.. I think it’s time to let them no ILL BE A TIGER SOON!! ❤️— nemzy (@nemani_nadolo) March 2, 2020
"Put it this way, I didn't come over for the weather, that's for sure!" he said.
"I remember talking to Lote Tuqiri, who's a family member of mine, and I just said to him: 'Listen, I'm trying to get to the UK and is there an opportunity?' And he just said: 'What about Leicester?'
"I have a friend at Leicester, Jordan Taufua, who I played with at the Crusaders, and growing up in the southern hemisphere, Leicester is one of those clubs you hear of a lot.
"He [Tuqiri] said: 'I've got a friend of mine who's a coach over there, Geordan Murphy, I'll send him a text and we'll see how we go.'
"From there the ball was rolling and we pursued it and pursued it, and eventually it worked out well for us.
"With the current situation over in France, with the JIFF numbers, it's going to be tough for a lot of the foreigners to play over here.
"There's JIFF laws where a certain amount of French players have to play in a match-day squad. I think at the moment it's something like 16 or 15, and it's made it extremely difficult, especially for us outside-backs.
"For a squad that has a lot of foreigners it's always going to be tough.
"It's just one of those things where an opportunity came to jump ship and continue my rugby over in the UK, and I'm thankful it's happened. I'm looking forward to the next chapter - club number seven.
"What really excites me about Leicester is, obviously they haven't been doing so well this year for whatever reason, but the crowds they get in and the atmosphere they get down at Welford Road looks pretty cool.
"It's something I'm excited about, and Leicester has a massive history of rugby.
"Hopefully next year we can turn things around."
"Coronavirus a scary situation"
Nadolo, now 32, began his appearance on the podcast this week by revealing his personal experience of the coronavirus in France.
"It's pretty hectic, isn't it? It's something that we probably haven't experienced ever," Nadolo said.
"It's a bit of a shock to everyone, especially here in France where everything thing is in lockdown.
"It's scary. I think the most important thing is to make sure your family and loved ones are all looked after.
"For me, my wife is pregnant at the moment, so I'm trying to make sure she's away and at home. She's isolated, so to make sure she's all good.
"From a rugby point of view as well, it's pretty crazy knowing that it's out of the President of the club's hands.
"It has come right from the top and we're in isolation at the moment, for the next 15 days I think. Our baby is due in 12 weeks and there's now talk of maybe doing a home birth, which is crazy.
"For me, the most important thing is making sure she's okay."
Listen to all that and more in a wide-ranging interview between Nemani Nadolo and Rupert Cox, as he delves into his story from Fiji to Australia, and the experiences of the Top 14, Japan and Crusaders HERE!