Sia Soliola is a powerhouse prop forward for the Canberra Raiders, who may have become a professional dancer had he not taken up the life of a footballer.
Sia was the guest speaker at the first Menslink Midweeker of the year last week when he made the surprise reveal before a full house at Gryphons Caffe and Bar in Griffith.
“I’ve always liked dancing, especially Samoan dancing like the guys with the sarongs and tattoos do, and I’ve thought a grass skirt would look kinda cool. But what I’ve always loved about dancing is that it’s another great form of expression,” Sia said.
Expressing yourself is what the Menslink Midweekers are all about. Menslink invites well-known Canberra men to speak about what makes them who they are and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
“A lot of people who know me see that I’m quite a reserved or conservative type of guy, but if I hadn’t become a footballer, I probably would have tried to pursue a dancing career. My dad wanted me to be an accountant,” he said as the audience burst in laughter at the thought of the burly prop in a suit and tie crunching numbers (instead of opposition forwards).
While the Raiders are more than happy with Sia’s career choice, the winner of last year’s NRL Ken Stephens Medal, which recognises contributions off the field to community projects, certainly didn’t sidestep any of the issues that have made him the man he is, including his encounters with alcohol abuse and suicide.
Thankfully, Sia will likely see his football career out at the Raiders, as he recounted some of the ups and downs of his 33-years as a wayward teenager through to manhood as a mentor and ‘spiritual leader’ at the Raiders, to the type of dad who will definitely embarrass his kids.
Sia was born in Auckland to Samoan parents, and while he has one sister, it was his aunties and uncles who shaped his early years.
“My upbringing was very simple and at a very young age, I always referenced my parents a lot, especially my mum. A lot of the qualities that I hold to being a man were from my mother, who showed me what it is like to be vulnerable,” he said.
Sia recalled how in his teenage years his uncles’ drinking normalised the use of alcohol and he would often be woken up by them fighting during their many parties in New Zealand.
At 17, Sia moved to Australia and was noticed by Ricky Stuart while playing junior rugby league in Sydney.
“There’s a funny story to that,” he recalls.
“Ricky and Arthur Beetson were at St Mary’s while we were playing a local junior footy team there. Arthur Beetson comes up to me and says, ‘hey mate, how you going?'”
After the game, Sia’s friend’s grandfather asked him if he knew who that was and Sia replied, “Yeah, that was Ricky Stuart”.
“I ended up getting signed by the Roosters and Artie took me straight to the club and the first thing I saw on the wall was a picture of Arthur Beetson and he ended up being an immortal and Roosters legend, so I soon learned about tradition pretty quickly,” Sia said.
On a more sombre note, Sia recalled a dream in which he was in an old house with big curtains. He told how he dreamt of wrapping a curtain around his neck, only to wake up and find out that a cousin of his had committed suicide.
Sia’s own wake-up call came when he was facing his own demons through exposure to alcohol. But people close to Sia gathered around him in the same way the close-knit Raiders family gathered around newcomer Curtis Scott, who spent a night in jail following Australia Day celebrations.
Sia will also be front and centre of the Raiders’ campaign to go one better and win a premiership this season.
In fact, Sia aspires to be a back-to-back premiership winner with the Raiders, given he has signed for another two seasons.
In the meantime, he will continue to go above and beyond the call of duty for his team and the community as a supporter of many charities, not the least of which is being the face of Menslink’s Silence is Deadly campaign that encourages young men to speak up and reach out to friends and family so they don’t succumb to depression and consider taking their own life.
“As men, we don’t show our vulnerable side enough and we talk with our actions rather than our emotions, so I hope that me talking today has helped,” he said.
To learn more about Menslink, including support services for young men and their parents, visit Menslink.