Sam Thaiday, the NRL’s gentle giant
SAM Thaiday has so many sides he is like a human Rubik's cube.
Best known as a rugby league player, there is so much more to the affable 30-year-old, born in Sydney but of Torres Strait Island descent.
He's also a chef, poet, rapper, nature lover, unbeaten professional boxer, husband, father and extremely proud Indigenous role model.
In between all that, he manages to play a bit of rugby league for the Broncos, Queensland and Australia.
Every time Thaiday pulls on a jumper, whether it be for the Broncos, his state or his country, he feels the honour and pride it carries and the pressure not to let anyone down.
It's a huge responsibility.
But being a good husband and father are his biggest life priorities, up with helping improve the quality of life for indigenous people.
Thaiday admits it's not always easy balancing being an aggressive rugby league forward, smashing into rivals one minute and the next being a loving husband to his childhood sweet Rachel and his two beautiful young daughters, Gracie and Ellsie.
"Fatherhood is the best thing that's happened to me in my life," he says during a candid interview with Australian Regional Media, prior to playing his 26th Test for Australia against New Zealand in Newcastle.
"It's hard sometimes to switch off and leave your football emotions at training or on the field after an aggressive, physical game.
"You don't ever want to take anything out on your kids, but I still think you need to be tough and hard on them when necessary to set certain standards for them."
Thaiday is one of those players who wears his heart on his sleeve. He is tough, passionate, uncompromising and totally committed.
Off the field though he uses his infectious smile and wicked sense of humour to help educate people about his heritage, and to draw attention to the daily plight and struggles of Indigenous people - especially young women and children.
Statistics show babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at a rate more than twice that of other Australian babies.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also experience a higher than average rate of preventable illnesses such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
Community work is something Thaiday and many other rugby league stars do, regularly visiting hospitals, schools and disability centres to give some joy to those far less fortunate.
He rates winning the Ken Stephens Medal, awarded annually to the player judged not only to have achieved high standards on the rugby league field, but who has also committed his time off the field to community projects, as a special honour.
"That is probably the biggest award I have ever won," he said.
"I've been Brisbane's player of the year at the Broncos and Dally M back-rower of the year, but the Ken Stephens Medal is presented for a lot of work that is not seen."
But it's high-fiving a little kid after a game, signing an autograph or just saying hello to a kid in wheelchair and asking him how he is going.
"That's why the Ken Stephens medal is the best and highest award a rugby league player can get."
Like many rugby players Thaiday visits hospitals and meets people with serious illnesses and makes friends with them.
And he has lost a few fans along the way.
"It happens a fair bit," he says.
"We meet so many people through our community work and we have some really, really huge diehard fans that support us whether they are sick or dying or disabled.
"It's very humbling and grounding.
"If you ever think you are have a shitty day, you look at these people who have some many health problems or are riddled with cancer, but they still find a way to keep going and get to a game and smile.
"It can be the best 80 minutes of their life when they come to a game but then they got back to hospital and fight whatever it is they are fighting.
"It's amazing we can do something as simple as play rugby league and inspire people.
"At the end of the day though, they are the people who inspire us."
SAM Thaiday is a romantic at heart, but even the best-laid plans often go astray.
"RACHEL and I have always had a thing about the Sunshine Coast," Thaiday says.
"I've got a little house up there (near Yaroomba) just near old Clivey Palmer's joint. I think eventually we'll end up settling up there.
"I had a big day planned. I got the ring and hid it in my jocks draw.
"You can hide anything in your jocks drawer. She (Rachel) never goes there. It's the only clothing from my washing she won't put away."
Thaiday had the big day all planned - a ride in a hot-air balloon followed by a beach picnic to pop the big question. What could go wrong?
He'd played for the Broncos on the Friday night and packed a special picnic for breakfast on the beach the following morning.
"When I woke up at 5am there was a message from the hot-air balloon company - it had cancelled because of rough weather," he says.
"It was raining, so the picnic also got cancelled.
"We ended up sitting on the back deck at home having everything I packed in the basket which Rach didn't know was supposed to be for an intimate breakfast and marriage proposal on the beach."
He eventually got around to proposing - but not the way he'd planned.
"We were staying at the old Hyatt Regency at Coolum and getting ready to go out to dinner," he said.
"Rachel came out of the shower and I was just standing there in my undies and I bent down on one knee and just popped the question.
"Dinner was a bit delayed after a few tears from her and ringing all the family to break the news."
The poem Sam wrote for his wife on their wedding day
I could break it down step by step and year by year, but we haven't catered for it, or have enough beer
So I will just share with you, the big things in my life that have all led up to Rachel becoming my wife
It all started with a shy little "hi" from a chubby, curly-haired creamy guy
We dated briefly in grade 8, but I didn't talk so Rach was thinking we were better off mates
So I showed off and acted tough like all boys do, but even with this killer smile she dumped me after a week or two
I brushed off my broken heart, we kept on talking, and while every smart kid was in class, I was walking
Walking around school to see where her class was at so I could stroll past, like I was a cool cat
Senior leaders and sports captains ... we were always paired up, and wow, how I changed from grade 8 because now she couldn't shut me up
Dressed in yellow, we attended school formal together, who would have thought we would be here today, promising our love forever
School was cool and it was fun, that's where our bond began for better things to come
The whole time we were at school there were stolen roses and the classic mix tapes
Some of our family and friends came and went, but we always stayed mates
Cruising in the van with mum, dad, Auda and Eli, we popped into the cheese cake shop to say bye
I was leaving the Ville for footy in Brisvegas, but not ever did that distance faze us
Not too much longer after that, Rach moved to Brissy for netball, and it didn't take me long to pick up the phone and call
I needed a place to stay because I just wasn't happy where I was
There was Di, Rach, Luke and me and it wasn't hard to spot the odd one out in this family
We had the best food fights, none of which I started, and after a year and a half together, I departed
From one family to another in Paul and Donna Bunn, and don't forget their boys BB and Geordie (he thinks he is the coolest one)
We dated who we dated, did our own things, but we alway stayed in touch because our bond, our friendship, the love meant way too much
Rach got really sick ... and that made me feel so sick, but ups, downs and hurdles like that made the years fly by quick
She ran away and lived overseas for a year ... her never coming home was my greatest fear
A catch up for 24 hours in China almost broke my heart, but after a long year I am glad things changed after a bit of time apart
A year abroad meant Rach needed a place to stay, and me being so nice, "Yes" was the only thing to say
Now this did start off as a rental arrangement, but I had my fingers crossed that it would become an engagement
The sparks flew and the fire grew fast, the friendship we shared made us a couple at last
I've given a lot up along the way, looking at it, it's for the best I say
I've lost most of the closet but gained a beautiful wife - I even cleaned up my room to get the love of my life
I could not be happier with this love of mine, and Babe I will love you until the end of time.
AS much as he loves playing rugby league, nothing gives Sam Thaiday as much pleasure as being a father.
BORN in Sydney, Thaiday moved to North Queensland with his parents when he was only four.
He ended up being one of seven children after his parents, who met in the air force in Sydney, adopted two baby boys, Maza and Auda, when Thaiday was eight.
Growing up in North Queensland, he said his Townsville house was a revolving door to family and friends.
"I think what Mum and Dad did to take in my two (adopted) brothers was fantastic," he says proudly.
He says the care and love they gave all their children clearly impacted on Thaiday, who is determined to raise and prepare his children for life's challenges.
"What football has taught me as I've grown older is controlled aggression," he says. "You can take some things you learn from footy and use them in your home environment."
He credits fatherhood as one reason Brisbane is playing such consistent football, with several players having young children.
"It's weird, we all sit down over a coffee of a morning and talk about teething and nappies and rashes and stuff," he says. "It's not just a woman's thing. We are often at home and can help our partners with our children."
Thaiday also says playing rugby league has "softened him".
"At the end of the day, if I had to give up footy tomorrow, I'd be more than happy to do so because I know I have a fantastic wife and two young girls who love and adore me and who I would do anything for," he says.
"Fatherhood is the best thing that's happened to me in my life."
He says parenting is a bit like rugby league in that he and Rachel had to work as a team and support each other when tough decisions had to made.
"I think both our girls know that when Dad is disciplining them they've done something wrong, but mostly Rachel and I work together as a team and support each other on decisions we make regarding our girls."
He also says that when boys eventually come calling, he hopes the standards he has set as a father will help his daughters make some fantastic decisions themselves.
"If the girls are smart, they'll learn from their mother ... she made a smart decision in picking me," Thaiday says with a laugh.
"All you can do as parents is bring your children up the right way and hope they make the right decisions."
The death that rocked Sam's world
Sam Thaiday was driving to Broncos training one morning when he got a call from a friend that turned his world upside down and changed his life forever.
The quivering voice on the other end of the phone broke the shattering and gut-wrenching news that his best mate, Joe Clarke, a high talented young rugby league player, had just committed suicide.
With tears in his eyes, Thaiday turned his car around headed home, unable to fully comprehend what he'd just been told.
The previous year in 2006, Thaiday had celebrated his 21st birthday.
He had made his debut for Queensland and Australia and completed what was a dream 12 months by being part of Brisbane's sixth premiership win.
But none of the mattered the day he got the call that rocked him, and eventually helped shape the man he is today.
Now he looks at young players differently and in his own words: "Gives them a cuddle not a kick in the a**e".
"He (Clarke) came back to the Broncos after some time with North Queensland, but struggled because he couldn't get back into Brisbane's side," Thaiday, who has a special tattoo on his finger in memory of his best mate, told Australian Regional Media..
"He suffered from depression because he didn't think he was good enough.
"It had a huge impact on me and 2007 was a pretty rough year for me actually.
"I was coming off the highest of highs in 2006 ... turning 21 and making the Queensland and Australian teams and winning a grand final.
"In 2007 I got a fractured eye socket and then a high ankle sprain that kept me sidelined for about 14 weeks all up. I missed out on Origin after making my debut the year before - and then my best mate committed suicide."
Thaiday, who was just beginning his rugby league journey, said Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett was terrific to the players who were close to Clarke, a junior Kiwi, who by all reports was a happy guy to be around.
Thaiday lived with Clarke and other young Brisbane hopefuls Ian Lacey and John Te Reo in the "Broncos House", run by Paul Bunn and his wife.
"Those blokes didn't handle it quite as well as I did, which is probably why they got into the trouble they did. But we supported each other as much as we could, and with the help of some close friends and family, I eventually came out the other side," Thaiday said.
Bennett gave some of the players time off to go to New Zealand for Clarke's funeral, which Thaiday said was extremely emotional.
"We carried him up the hill to his traditional family burial site," he recalled..
"It was a huge eye opener for me at the time.
"Wayne (Bennett) gave us a lot of time off to help us try and grieve and help us through the process.
"It was a very tough year.
Because there were no outward signed Clarke was in such a dark place, Thaiday said he was far more aware of changes in his own moods.
"If I feel some changes and I am distancing myself or not feeling overly great, I make sure I pipe up and talk to someone," he said..
"If I see those things in the young boys, instead of kicking them, I'll give them a cuddle."