Young Eels Learn to Speak Up

Parramatta NYC player Sam Manuleleua is amongst the quietest individuals at Eels HQ. Softly spoken Sam works as an office assistant for the club and his response to a regular gday in the hallways of Eels HQ is a wry smile before quickly moving on.


But when a number of young players were asked to make a presentation on the rugby league player that inspired them most, big Sammy approached the lectern with confidence in his stride.


The football player who has inspired me, not just as a player but as a person too - as some of you know - is in the room. His name is Kelepi Tanginoa, Manuleleua said.


If you see Kelepi, youll think hes a scary big guy you dont want to mess around with, but when you meet him, Kelepis one of the most humble and respectful people you will ever meet.


The conviction in Sam's voice and the honesty of his words took everyone in the room aback. The young man standing in front of the group was a far cry from the quiet fella from Samoa who travelled to Australia by himself chasing his dream of playing professional rugby league.


His transformation is partly thanks to an Oral Presentation Skills program ran at the Eels in conjunction with Western Sydney TAFE.


Along with Sam, NYC team mates Kelepi Tanginoa, Pauli Pauli, Daniel Alvaro, Zach Dockar-Clay, John Folau and Fred Junior Mauala have all completed the 10-week program, and Eels Welfare and Education officer Luke Burt describes the development of each individual as simply extraordinary.


It was a massive shock to me seeing how the group had come," Burt explained.


"Id be generous if I said they struggled at the start."


"Their grammar, diction and confidence have changed so much, and Sammy is a great example of that just around the office.


Over the 10 weeks the players, with the guidance of teacher Michelle Wilkinson and trainer Janelle Gorrie, worked on the key facets of public speaking. From using your eyes, learning when to pause, body language, monitoring your voice and preparation, to self-esteem and confidence.


The skills they have got out of this course give these guys the ability to fully utilise the network that Rugby League opens up to them, thats the key thing, Burt said.


The initiative is an evolution of the WELL (Workplace English Language and Literacy) Program, which over the last 4 years has seen 107 Parramatta players participate.


Long-serving Eels Education officer Kevin Wise, the man behind the program, beams with pride when he talks about the difference it has made in these players lives.


Just having the knowledge that we have made a genuine difference in the lives of these young men is great, Wise said.


To see them stand in front of a group who were largely strangers and speak with such confidence is a credit to them each for the hard work they put in, and also Michelle and Janine.


But the positive outcomes of the last 10 weeks go much further than players simply being able to meet their professional commitments by conducting a good interview or introducing themselves at an appearance.


These young men, no older than 20, are now armed with the tools to speak their mind and share their thoughts clearly.


In an age where communication is often limited to tweets and Facebook updates, the ability to speak confidently to an audience is a rare trait. Whether as rugby league role models or out in the workforce, Sammy and his peers can stand and be heard, thanks largely to what they have learnt in the WELL Program.


Most importantly, though, this group will now serve as an example for the next crop of youngsters coming through the ranks. The NRL has some wonderful initiatives in engaging young players to further their education through tertiary study or vocational training, but there is no better vehicle to sell this message than the players themselves.


It is a responsibility that Kelepi Tanginoa, the Eels Rookie of the Year, acknowledges and embraces.


In my life I try to do the right thing, be nice to people and work hard, and if that leaves a good example for others that is great, Kelepi says with his newly found confidence.


Now that I have done this course I will be doing my best to encourage others boys to do the same. I have looked up to Tim Mannah since I joined the Eels and now I have the responsibility of getting the next generation to extend themselves.


And beyond the group of young players on stage, the course also provides a reminder for the staff and coaches involved in this great game of the affect it can have on everyone it engages.


What the staff and players in the room on Monday night witnessed as each Eel took his place behind the lectern, is the emergence of the next group of leaders at the blue and gold.


Perhaps without realising it, these 18 and 19 year olds showed everyone in attendance the power of setting a positive example. The kind of example young Sam found in Kelepi:


Kelepi is an inspiration not just to me but to his family, friends and the community. A person who has accomplished a lot at a young age and has a big future ahead of him. A person, so humble, always smiling, a family man and most importantly a man of God.


This inspires me about Kelepi and I hope to be like him, because if he can do it, I know for sure you and I can do it too. Nothing is impossible through our God, we just have to do the hard work to get where we want to be.