Whatever the name, Renouf is ready to make 2021 his year.
By Matt Attard
A new name will appear for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2021. Not Nick Cotric or Kyle Flanagan, or Jack Hetherington, or Corey Waddell.
He is a powerful prop who was a star in the juniors – apart from his early years as a rugby union fullback with feet for hands – and he’s ready to have a breakout season to secure a new contract.
Renouf Atoni, formerly known as To’omaga, has a new name and a continued hunger to succeed in the top grade as he looks towards the future.
“My parents weren’t married when I was born,” he explained. “Mum put me and my sister under her name (To’omaga), but before I got married recently, I decided to carry my dad’s name. So I’ve changed it legally.”
We all know the story of Atoni’s first name, given to him in honour of Broncos legend Steve Renouf. But what was wrong with Steve?
“He was my dad’s favourite player,” he explained. “I never understood why he didn’t just call me Steve. It was such a random-ass name growing up, but I love it now.”
A new coach, new staff, new signings, and now a new player that no one has heard of. He hopes that will help him approach the year as a make or break one where he can take it to another level and impress future suitors.
“That’s my plan man,” he said. “I know I have to work harder. 2020 was a year I set lots of goals for myself but I didn’t make any.
“This year was a bit of a learning experience but I was disappointed with my season and I wanted to do more. So now I’m looking forward to 2021 that much more and ready to better my game.
He hopes he can remain in the blue and white, but as a married man he understands rugby league has become a business and he has to do what he can to support his family.
“All I know is Belmore. I’d love to stay at the club. I’ve been here for 8 years now, but I have to look out for me and my family,” he said.
“Whatever is best for my wife and I. I hope I can stay at the club for as long as I can so I just have to impress, string some good years of consistent footy and hopefully it all falls in to place.”
A star in the juniors, the powerful prop terrorised the opposition in SG Ball and ISP (reserve grade) before making the leap to first grade.
“First grade is so much faster. You can never switch off, but in ISP you can switch off in small moments,” he said.
“Contact-wise I find it similar, but the speed of the game is the biggest difference. I don’t even know how I got here. It’s gone so fast.
“It’s not just the hard work, it’s just showing up and training and playing your best. It feels like I just got to Australia last year. I just came through the grades and lucky enough to end up where I am.”
Let’s rewind back to his younger days, when Renouf was playing rugby for his hometown of Porirua in New Zealand.
“I was a fullback who couldn’t catch the ball. My nickname was ‘poo hands’ because I just couldn’t catch the ball,” he said.
“I was that bad. I discovered rugby league in under-14s and came through to under-17s before I signed with a manager and then left when I was 17 to move to Belmore.”
There he played SG Ball on a train-and-trial with the Bulldogs. He quit school and did landscaping while juggling football, always striving to hit the goals he set for himself.
“I like setting my goals high. One of my main goals is to drop some weight. I want to get lighter and fitter for 2021,” he said.
“The game’s changed. Heaps of props are mobile and skilful these days, so I need to drop some kilos before the season.
“My playing weight is 112kg but I’d like to get to 110kg for the season. Regardless, I feel like with the new coaching staff I’ll get there anyway.”
With COVID-19 and everything that’s happened, he was just happy to be playing football under Dean Pay, and then Steve Georgallis after Pay was sacked.
“When we went into lock down that was the hardest part. My missus was getting sick of seeing my face. I was bored,” he said.
“It was pretty draining training, but even having a few weeks break makes me so bored. I’m ready to get back into it.
“We’ve all seen what Baz has done at Penrith, and everyone is excited to get the new players and staff. You get really excited to make them feel welcome.
“It excites me because we hardly see any player movement in the past few years. With the salary cap situation the Bulldogs were in we only really saw some young guys step up, so it’s really exciting to see new players coming to the club.”