After struggling to make an impact at the start of his career with the Junior Warriors, Auckland’s Malakai Houma is working his way back to a second chance via Cronulla Sharks feeder team the Newtown Jets, alongside big brother Saulala.
We sat down with Malakai on a pre-season trip back to New Zealand to hear his story.
KLC: Thanks for joining us Malakai, let’s start with this year where you started it by playing at the 2017 NRL Auckland Nines, how was that?
MH: It was great! I had a few family and friends come out for it, ended up having to ask for a few extra tickets, so that was good having all that support from home.
You got to play against a number of NRL and international forwards, you must have enjoyed that opportunity to test where you are at with your own game?
It’s always the goal to play in the NRL and to play against some of those quality players I watch week in, week out was unbelievable. It was a test for me, but that is the level I am trying to get to. Running against guys like [David] Klemmer, that was an experience.
What was the focus over the pre-season and the areas you tried to improve?
From pre-season I dropped weight, I started at 122kgs and now I am back at 111kgs, so there’s a big chunk of weight gone. I had to put some muscle back on to deal with the physicality that these NRL props bring
The Most Consistent Player Award for 2016 has been won by Malakai Houma.
— Newtown Jets (@newtownrlfc) October 5, 2016
How hard is it to find a balance with that stuff?
Yeah it’s also about keeping your fitness, because the game is really fast compared to NSW Cup. But the fitness is improving with the weight loss, 100 per cent. At the start of pre-season i was at the back of the pack, a long way from NRL standard.
But with the help of the coaching staff I have been going well and slowly getting back to where I want.
Has Sharks coach Shane Flanagan sat down for a chat with you? If so what is he after from you?
When I first sat down with Flanno he told me that I run hard and tackle hard, but that the NRL is all about effort on effort, so if I can’t run hard and then do it again on the next set then there is no point in having me.
The coaches have been really good, they have kept me on a strict diet and made me do a lot of extras with guys like T-Rex (Tony Williams) and Sam Tagataese, us big boys have been in the altitude room working hard.
Last year you and your brother Saulala made history as the first siblings to pack down together in the front row for the Newtown Jets, what’s it been like getting to play with him in the NSW Cup?
Yeah it’s always good playing with your older brother, he is the one who got me to Australia and hooked me up with the Newtown Jets. I have so much respect for him, he’s my mentor and it’s been unbelievable playing side by side.
The bond we share is strong on and off the field.
You came through Auckland’s Fox Memorial Premiership, what kind of prep was that for the NSW Cup?
Surprisingly Fox is not far off NSW Cup, especially in terms of physicality. We had a lot of big boys playing for Mt Albert and playing against some of those guys was good. I played premiers from about the age of 17, so physicality was never something I had to worry about when I transitioned into higher levels.
(Main photo: Malakai Houma on the run for Newtown. Credit: Gary Sutherland).