Written by Stuart McLennan
The last time Robert Tuliatu and this correspondent spoke was in 2019 on a 26 hour bus trip returning to Athens from Edirne, Turkey. The Greek women’s team had debuted in their first ever international match and the men’s side, boasting all domestic players, had won against their Turkish counterparts.
I was there to coach the women’s team. Robert had come along for the ride, providing support, laughs and encouragement. Around that time he would regularly turn up out of the blue and assist with club training sessions in Athens, such is his love for the heritage country, its people and rugby league.
“It’s probably no secret to those who know me that I don’t like sitting still,” Tuliatu told Everything Rugby League.
“In 2019 I travelled extensively. 2020 would have been no exception. I had signed with a club in the (French) Elite 1, Greece was to play in Moscow, and I was very excited to take full advantage of the opportunities that international rugby league affords.”
Making the most of a difficult situation
While Covid restrictions put the brakes on a rugby league travel itinerary that had included stints with West Wales Raiders and London Skolars, the Greek international forward has enjoyed achieving goals and positive outcomes recently.
“I have tried to make the most of a precarious worldwide situation. Rural Australia is phenomenal and I have been taking advantage of how beautiful NSW is. It has been really enjoyable to be able to play week-in week-out. In seasons past I would have to take several rounds leave in order to play for Greece or Australian Universities or some other team that got me moving. That consistency is probably one thing that helped me earn a Newcastle Rebels selection this year which was a surprising but very proud moment.”
“I’ve recently begun putting my law degree to use. All of the travel I was doing delayed its completion but now that it is done, I’ve found a great firm in Newcastle that deals with a whole range of law. So, in a way it was a blessing that the move to France didn’t work out. One of my long term goals is to become a good lawyer. The way I figure, if I can stand in front of George Burgess or Marty Taupau on the field, I should be able to stand in front of a judge in legal proceedings.”
A spiritual home at the Cessnock Goannas
With the option of playing in France off the table in 2020 and living in Newcastle, Tuliatu returned to familiar rugby league surroundings in the Hunter region at the Cessnock Goannas. A move that paid dividends in his first season back at the club.
“Winning a premiership with Cessnock in 2020 was obviously elating, but it was the way we got there which was really satisfying. We were not a team of superstars and I doubt many would have backed us. I was 24 last year and was usually the third or fourth oldest bloke in the team depending on our line-up. We relied heavily on Cessnock juniors who had recently graduated to grade. Most of the side consisted of guys aged 18 to 20 who cared more about representing their town, than the absence of a pay cheque.
“I’ve been a bit of a journeyman, playing at Mounties, Asquith Magpies, West Wales Raiders and London Skolars. But if you look at my playing history on paper, the Cessnock Goannas name is constantly intertwined in between those clubs because it’s a hard joint to stay away from.”
“This year (in the Denton Engineering Cup) has been the highest standard of footy I’ve ever played. We had a tough victory against Maitland in round four and I think I’m still sore from that game.
“You don’t have to look far to find players who have plied their craft in the NRL: Brock Lamb, Luke Walsh, Frank Paul Nu’uausala, Kerrod Holland. Another dozen or so spring to mind immediately. Tyrone Roberts-Davis has been freakish for the Goannas this year and these guys increase the standard for everyone.
“The physicality has always been intense and the speed has increased exponentially compared to years past. Country rugby league has always offered a spectacle but 2021 has thus far been special.”
Greece and the 2021 World Cup
Having played eight international matches for Greece including the World Cup qualifiers, Tuliatu, whose mother’s family come from the beautiful historic village of Archanes on Crete, is excited personally and for all the people who brought Greece to a position where the nation will play in their first ever World Cup later this year. Greece will come up against France, Samoa and England in the Group A pool.
“Being able to play in a World Cup is amazing because if I get the chance to take the field, I am representing the culmination of the work of so many people.
“For years this has been the dream of so many people behind the scenes and I have had the privilege to observe, benefit and occasionally assist their efforts.
“If one day we find that support for the game of rugby league has suffused throughout Greece, I’ll be able to have a sense of pride that I played a small role in helping that come about.
“As a starting point, I think a realistic expectation is that we will impress audiences who had no idea our country participated in the sport, let alone at such a quality level. But we will be looking to defy expectations at this next World Cup. If you had asked me that question 2-3 years ago, people would have laughed if I had said ‘for Greece to qualify for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.’ So you never know if Greece could muster an upset.”
What’s next for this rugby league nomad?
When Covid restrictions ease and the opportunity to travel recommences, the itchy feet will most likely take over and Tuliatu will weigh up options to play rugby league somewhere on this planet.
“There are so many competitions I have yet to play in which I would love to if given the chance. There are some great country competitions in rural Australia which I think would be a great experience and a place where I could do some good with my career. I am still devastated I was unable to get to France in 2020 so it is on the bucket list to play Elite 1 at some stage. I’ve also heard great things about the United States.
“Above all else though I would like to use the World Cup as a platform to play in the RFL championship or higher. I enjoyed my season at London Skolars in 2019 and would love to continue climbing the UK’s rugby league hierarchy.”