Iafeta Paleaaesina shares his Wigan Warriors memories and discusses his current role with Hull FC
The former prop will return to the DW Stadium on Thursday night with Hull FC, where he is now the Player Welfare Manager.
Paleaaesina represented the Warriors between 2006 and 2010, following his move from New Zealand.
He said: “Before I came over I was already a Wigan fan, so getting the opportunity to pull on the cherry and white was a dream come true and one of the proudest moments of my career. It’s a great club with great people. I still speak about them now, and the boys say: ‘Let it go.’
“It was then the place where I made my name, and I’m still friends with some of the players. A big shoutout to Mary Sharkey, because she was awesome.
“When I was a youngster there were ex-Kiwi players who I idolised like Dean Bell, Frano Botica and the late Va’aiga Tuigamala. That’s what attracted me to the club. I woke up in the early hours of the morning back home with my old man to watch the games.
“They’re the biggest club in rugby league, let's make no mistake about that. It was a special time for me being there.
“When Ian Millward was at St Helens he wanted me to go there, but I wasn't interested. Then he switched to Wigan, it was no brainer, I was like ‘get me over there and signed up ASAP.’
“I was only 22 when I came over, so it made me grow up quickly, but I had a great support network around me.
“When I first joined in 2006 we were in a relegation battle, so that was a scary part. Then Brian Noble came across and brought Stuart Fielden, and that sort of lifted the group. Thankfully we survived and climbed the table.
“In the next few seasons we came close to getting to the finals, but couldn’t quite make it. Then in my final year with Michael Maguire and Shaun Wane, we won it. It was an unbelievable year.
“You’re winning the Grand Final with the club you supported as a kid, so it was probably the best way to go out for me. Other than my kids being born, it was one of the most special moments of my life. It’s funny how the journey ends.
“I will always remember it, and you go down in history for being part of that group. We had a great bunch of blokes and coaches, everything just went right. You can’t explain it. My dad has the ring back in New Zealand, and he wears it proudly around Auckland.
“I’ll always hold Wigan in high regard, they lead the way in how everything is run, and are a club others want to be like and emulate. I loved my time there from day one.
“My career went quickly. I see some of the kids at Wigan now like Sam Powell and Liam Farrell, who were youngsters when I was there, so it’s great to see them being influential players, but it does make me feel even older.”
Paleaaesina says he always enjoys visiting the DW Stadium, and expects Hull FC to be presented with a strong challenge in Thursday’s game.
“I’m looking forward to coming back,” he added.
“It’s kind of like a homecoming every time we play away to Wigan. You get to see everyone, because I made friends for life there. There’s a bond forever. I want both Hull and Wigan to do well.
“We’ve had a few good battles in the last few years, it will be a big test. You always want to play in the games against the best, so that’s how we will take it. You need to be on your game otherwise it can be a long night.
“We’ve had a couple of good wins, and are building momentum.”
Paleaaesina has been Hull’s full time Player Welfare Manager since 2016, and states it was “humbling” to be given the opportunity.
“I started doing the role when I was still playing, so when I retired I was already a year into it,” he explained.
“The transition was pretty smooth. I was pretty lucky that the club saw something in me to keep me on afterwards because there’s not many jobs in rugby.
“It was pretty humbling having the chairman asking if they can keep you on, so it was a no-brainer for me because I had that support.
“I wanted to stay involved in the game, so when I was still playing I was doing a lot of stuff with the foundation and going out into the community. I really enjoyed giving back to the sport that’s given me everything. That’s how it all came about.
“It can be pretty scary for the boys when they come to the backend of their career if they’re not prepared for it, whether that is through injury or age. My role now is to help the players doing something while they are playing, especially in their down time.
“It’s about maximising their days off, and I just encourage them to do that so then they have something in place for when the time comes for them to finish. It is challenging at times but I’ve really enjoyed every minute of it.
“Rugby as a whole has helped me, just working as a team, which is how it should be. There is a good support network, which is good for the players and gives them whatever they want.
“I learnt a lot with Wigan that helps me with my role here.”