A shaken but safe Sia Soliola is vowing to enrol his kids in Nippers immediately after the Canberra Raiders enforcer had to be rescued from the surf at Mooloolaba Beach on Wednesday.
Soliola, who is on the Sunshine Coast with teammates preparing for Saturday’s pre-season trial against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, got himself into trouble completing a “simple swimming drill” with the Alexandra Heads Nippers.
Renowned as one of the heaviest hitters in the Telstra Premiership and famed for playing through a broken jaw and busted ribs in recent years, Soliola freely admits he lost the plot when he realised dry land was further away than first thought.
“I just panicked and that’s what did me,” Soliola told NRL.com.
“I can swim, in pools and that, it was a little bit rough but I felt fine and I was having a rest on the buoy before going back in.
“But as I was going back in my lungs just went on me and I ended up in a bit of trouble. I tried floating on my back as you’re meant to do and then had to get some help.
“I put my hand up and then in my head I’m panicking again thinking, ‘how long will it take for these guys to realise it’s not a joke’?”
Local 16-year-old lifeguard Oliver Pallister was quick on the uptake, and soon delivered the 100-kilo Samoan international safe and sound to the beach, with fellow forwards Craig Garvey and Makahesi Makatoa helping Soliola out of the water.
The veteran Raider has been copping plenty of stick from his teammates, coach Ricky Stuart and his family over the incident.
“I’ve copped it from everyone, it hasn’t stopped,” Soliola said.
“My manager’s been giving it to me, my sister’s sending me messages this morning, my cousins. My mum even gave me a serve last night.”
While still happy to joke about his scare, Soliola also has a new appreciation for surf safety, and plans to enrol his own kids in Nippers as soon as he gets back to the nation’s capital.
“It just raises awareness of water safety and how good something like Nippers is for it.
“Someone like me who is fit and healthy, I was still caught unaware and if you’re unaware or don’t have experience in the water, then things can go pear-shaped really quickly.
“I’ll definitely be putting my kids into Nippers now, that confidence and ability in the water is a great thing to have.
“One hell of an experience and a big thanks to Alexandra Surf Club.”