Pangai takes next step in NRL turnaround

Tevita Pangai Junior has credited Quade Cooper after reversing his NRL fortunes at Penrith.
Tevita Pangai Junior has credited Quade Cooper after reversing his NRL fortunes at Penrith.

Lessons learned from "big brother" Quade Cooper have inspired Tevita Pangai Junior as he prepares to take the next step on his own unlikely footy journey in Saturday's NRL preliminary final.

Pangai was unwanted by battling Brisbane and cut loose in July despite having another season left on his contract.

Just two months later Pangai is set to star in an NRL grand final qualifier with Penrith against defending premiers Melbourne.

Pangai was pinching himself after becoming a bench weapon for a title threat before he links up with Canterbury for next year.

"I thought I had another year left on my contract at the Broncos, but I am grateful for Penrith for letting me play finals again - it's good to be back," he said.

There were tumultuous times during Pangai's five-and-a-half season Brisbane stint, almost having his contract torn up in 2020 for biosecurity breaches and associating with alleged bikies.

These days Pangai is enjoying his time on the field thanks to his efforts off it, striving to become a better "family man".

He said it is thanks to someone who knows all about career turnarounds - former Wallabies outcast Cooper.

The pair are family friends but became very close during last year's COVID-19 NRL lockdown, training together almost every day in Brisbane.

"He is like a big brother to me," Pangai said.

"He still talks to me every day about the daily grind and making sure you are doing the little things.

"He has taught me not just how to be a good player... but how to be a good person, a good family man."

Many were surprised when Cooper recently ended years in the rugby wilderness to make a triumphant Wallabies return - but not Pangai.

He said Cooper was the ultimate professional during lockdown training which became known as the "5am club" due to the yawn-inducing start time.

"I knew all the hard work he was doing. I am really happy for him," Pangai said of Cooper's latest success.

"He (Cooper) has taught me what it takes to be a proper athlete.

"There's some good players here at Penrith but he is on another level with his professionalism."

Pangai said the only one who came close at Penrith was NSW lock Isaah Yeo.

"He is like Quade. He invests a lot of time into his game," he said.

"He is an 80-minute player and that's where I need to get to. I have been asking him a lot of questions."

Pangai's time with Penrith is almost complete.

But he believed the club would never be far from his thoughts when he is joined by current Panthers Matt Burton and Brent Naden at the Bulldogs next year.

"There's a few players coming with me to the Dogs and there's (Bulldogs and ex-Penrith football boss) Gus (Phil Gould) there too - I think he is still a Panther at heart," Pangai said.

Australian Associated Press