I was tearing up in the sheds: Willie Tonga

He’s lost Test matches and even Origin games, but Parramatta centre Willie Tonga insists last Sunday’s loss to Manly was the most gut-wrenching of his career.
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As captain Jarryd Hayne was unleashing on the match officials for a below-par performance with the whistle, a heartbroken Tonga sat in the dilapidated sheds at Brookvale Oval trying to hold back tears.

But there was little he could do to control his emotions after the reality of their last-second loss to the grand finalists sunk in.

“I was shattered,” Tonga said.

“I’ve honestly never felt like that after a loss in my life. I’ll be a man about it – I was tearing up in the sheds. To be so close and to put in so much effort, to get that result was heartbreaking.”

The 22-18 loss is Parramatta’s 56th defeat in their last 75 games played, although it will carry far greater significance than the 56-4 loss to the Sydney Roosters just a week earlier.

While their spirited performance against Manly indicates this isn’t the same football team that has picked up the wooden spoon for the past two years, Tonga admits Sunday’s emotional reaction to the loss against Manly was a culmination of two years of pain.

“It is [a build up],” he said.

“It gets tough, the people out there that don’t really go through this wouldn’t realise. We’re out there busting ourselves trying to do our best every week. It just wasn’t meant to be.

“A lot of heads [were] down, but [coach Brad Arthur has] been so positive, saying ‘look, it’s a positive step ahead from where we were last week’. Considering they were the grand finalists, the game was there to be won for us but we didn’t take our opportunities.”

Last Sunday’s effort against Manly was a stark contrast to the performance they dished out against the premiers just eight days earlier.

Consistency was always going to be the issue for Arthur’s relatively inexperienced side but Tonga believes once the players realise their potential they will find the right balance.

“Our boys are young and raw and are still learning the game,” Tonga said.

“I don’t think people realise how raw these boys are. As soon as they realise their potential and what they can do, the belief that the boys can have within themselves, we’ll surprise some teams and a lot of people.”

One of those players is Fijian winger Semi Radradra, who has scored six tries in the first three games of the year.

“I couldn’t speak more highly of him,” Tonga said.

“He’s one of the first to be at training and one of the last to leave training. He’s always asking questions … I think last year might have been his first year of rugby league. He’s worked really hard on his game. It’s no fluke to see what you’re seeing at the moment. He’s worked really hard and he’s going to be something special in the future.”

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