Pt Chevalier Pirates playmaker Jeremiah Pai is one of the most experienced players running around in the Auckland first division. He’s played NRL with the Warriors and achieved pretty much everything there is to be done at a local level.
Kiwileaguecentral.com sat down with Pai on the eve of the 2018 Fox Memorial finals series kicking off, as part of our for our Waterview Laundromat local Q&A series.
There’s heaps of stories, sometimes I make them up, sometimes I tell the truth! It all started as a kid, my dad sort of used to call me Waxhead, which I think came from a TV advert about a little kid who had no ears and didn’t listen. So I was little Waxhead, and as I got older I got shortened to Wax.
You’re known to give nicknames to everyone, they say every player in the Pt Chevalier Fox Memorial system has a nickname from you, is that true?
Yep, everyone has got a nickname from me. I think it’s a good part of culture and for the new ones that come in, I feel like they need to be warmly welcomed by teasing them a bit and giving them a name. I have a nickname for every single player, whether topside or reserves. Even if I’ve just met them, one comes to mind. I’ve given so many nicknames out, they are all my favourites, every single one I come up with. I give other people I play against nicknames too. It’s hard case, I don’t know them at all, but they get a nickname, just so I can get them angry and off their game.
Along with Howick’s Tony Tuia, you’re also known to have some of the best on-field banter in the game. What’s it like when you two meet on the field?
Once I start I won’t shut up, and once Tony gets going, he gets going. But the thing with Tony is that we are really close and so are our families. So with banter, we try not to, because his partner and my sister are best friends, so it gets a bit funny with banter! I’ll turn around to him and say, ‘I’ll tell your wife bro’ or ‘don’t you run at me, I’m old, don’t you do that’ and he will run the other way. I played with Tony’s dad at the Eastern Tornados when I was 16 or 17. Tony was a little boy, but his dad, he was a rock, one hard rock. It’s a shame Tony never got a shot or an opportunity at higher levels, he could have been like a Sam Kasiano. He’s incredibly strong.
You turned 36 this year and you’ve been playing most of your life – what motivates you to keep going at this stage of your career?
The motivation comes from playing alongside my brothers in the Pirates team. Every year we just get tighter and tighter. I am going on seven years at the club, and it’s a blessing being part of this club. My age is high, but if you are mentally tough it doesn’t matter how old you are, that’s a just a number.
Where does that mental toughness come from?
I was taught something when I was little. It’s an inspirational speech I got, theperson said to me ‘just be mentally tough, you’ll go a long way, it will help you in life if you can be mentally tough’. That stuck with me, I’ll remember that forever. That advice came from (former Kiwi international and Brisbane Broncos great) Tonie Carroll.
It was back when I was playing U16s for Auckland I think. He was in the Kiwis and they were all in the Oaks Tavern in Penrose. I went with my mum, because our cousin is Ruben Wiki. I was only really young, but back in those days you could walk around the pub. My mum was talking to Tonie and she asked him what it took to get to where he had got to in the game, and that was the message that stuck with me. I live by that now, I’m old, not as fit as I was, but I can get through any situation with mental toughness.
You’ve played at a number of Auckland clubs, including Northcote. You’re close to Dylan Moses and went to Pt Chevalier with him originally, so were you tempted to follow him back to the Tigers when he left Pt Chevalier last year?
Na, not really. Heaps of people thought when he left that I would too, but na. He’s one of my closest mates, he’s like my brother, and we played alongside each other for over 10 years. But Pt Chevalier is home. Pt Chev would be the best club I have ever been at, because we are so tight.
You came through the New Zealand Warriors at the starts of the 2000s, before stints with Parramatta and Melbourne, and finished with two NRL games to your name. How do you look back at that now?
There’s always stuff you’d change, but you don’t think about that when you are young. But I have no regrets, I have enjoyed it along the way. I got to be coached by some incredible coaches, and some of the guys I played alongside – Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Greg Inglis – they are greats of the game now and I got to train with them.
There were some good weekends with people like that. Even when I was at Parramatta, Nathan Hindmarsh was a great help to me there, he was an awesome guy.