When you first meet Foisa Peni you very quickly realise you are in the company of a man who is immensely happy, a man who is at peace with his life and loves everything about his place in the universe. He loves his family, his friends and his football.
Roll the clock back four years and you would meet a very different Foisa Peni, by his own admission he was overweight, lacking the passion for football, associating with the wrong people and making bad decisions. It is no exaggeration to say he was one small step away from a prison cell. In reality the only thing that stood between him and that prison cell was the hard work of one exceptional lawyer. The story is such a cliché it almost writes itself – prodigiously talented young footballer gets distracted, meets the wrong people, losses his focus, his passion and, almost, his career. Make no mistake Foisa Peni is a prodigiously talented footballer. Former teammate and current Test player Matt Gillett describes him as,
“The most talented player I’ve played with outside of the NRL”.
At 188cm (6 foot 2 inches) and 120kgs he is every bit the human wrecking ball, but with delicate footwork, soft hands and ball skills that seem at odds with his size. Talent though can only get you so far, but for the help of friends and family and a lot of hardwork this story might have had a very different ending.
At his darkest hour Peni received a phone call from mentor, long-time friend and current coach Craig Ingebrigsten, an association that stretches back to the Redcliffe under 14’s. Ingebrigten’s message was simple,
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what position you’re in, as a mate I’ll always be there for you”
It was exactly the call Peni needed and it was the start of his road to redemption. Foisa is quick to heap praise on his partner Meima, Ingebrigsten and his friends and family for the roles they played in turning his life around, however such is the humility of the man that he completely forgets to tell you about the hard work he put into turning his life around. The ‘friends’ he had to walk away from, the lifestyle changes he had to make, the long hours he spend getting his body back into shape.
My mum used to tell us that hard work is its own reward and that may be true, however for Foisa Peni the reward for his hard work, dedication and commitment came on Sunday the 20th of April 2014 when he made his Intrust Super Cup debut for the Easts Tigers against the Burleigh Bears at the age of twenty seven. Having reached twenty seven and not made their debut many athletes would have accepted that it wasn’t going to happen and would have hung the boots up. Not Foisa he continued to show up night after night, training with the FOGS A Grade squad, training with the Intrust Super Cup squad occasionally, slogging along never losing faith that his moment would come. When it did he played the entire second half of the game, almost instantly cementing himself a spot in the Tigers seventeen every week. He would go on to play another twelve games of Intrust Super Cup before his season was cruelly interrupted by a broken right arm. A broken arm did not phase him though, he has overcome bigger hurdles, it just meant more hard work and work hard he did, defying a ‘season ending’ diagnosis and finishing his year with a FOGS A Grade Grand Final victory.
That work ethic and attitude is exactly why good judges hold him in such high regard. The man who has coached him longer than any other, Craig Ingebrigsten summed it up best when he said,
“The bloke optimises the players I want to coach, he has a desire and attitude of a winner if I am in a war I want Foisa Peni with me”.
Dwayne Johnson once wrote,
“Be hungry. Be humble. And always be the hardest worker in the room”
He could well have been thinking about Foisa Peni when he penned those words.