Jordan Mailata’s Journey From Rugby League Outsider To The Superbowl - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Jordan Mailata’s Journey From Rugby League Outsider To The Superbowl

When he was 19, Jordan Mailata was told he wasn’t fit enough to play professional rugby league. Just over five years later, the 166kg wrecking ball is headed to the Superbowl. This is how he got there.

The Philadelphia Eagles are back in the Superbowl with a shot at their second title in the last six years. Pivotal to their their rise back to the top is Left Tackle Jordan Mailata. He’s been a crucial cog in the Eagles green machine since joining the team and will be a decisive factor in the Superbowl. “I’m so focused in on the game right now,” he told a media scrum following the Eagles NFC Championship win. “I’m going to enjoy all the experiences but the advice I received from the vets is to stay focused and locked in.”

While he’s now at the pinnacle of American football, Mailata’s journey to the top has been anything but ordinary. Unlike most NFL players, he didn’t grow up playing American football. In fact, he was almost completely unfamiliar with the sport until he began training for the NFL in 2018. He used to skip school to watch the Superbowl, but the 25-year-old never could’ve imagined he’d play in one. Mailata’s path has taken him from rugby league outcast to an $88 million superstar, and he’s had more than has fair share of tribulations along the way.

Mailata has always been big. He’s officially listed at 166kg and 2.03 metres tall, but he was pushing 150kg when he was still a teenager. Mailata was born and raised in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown and is the son of Samoan immigrant parents. He played junior rugby league for the Bankstown Bulls and his hulking size immediately caught the attention of NRL scouts. The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs saw Mailata’s potential and signed the promising prop to their elite level under-18 development program.

With a bright future in the NRL on the horizon, Mailata collapsed at a training session and was subsequently hospitalised. He was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a congenital heart condition that required surgery. Putting his development on hold for over 18 months. It was during this time that Mailata’s weight ballooned out to 166kg and his fitness levels became a concern. Mailata didn’t give up, he trained hard and lost 28kg, eventually earning a contract to play reserve grade footy.

If Mailata wanted to work his way into the NRL, the South Sydney Rabbitohs told him he needed to lose an additional 15kg – just for a place in their reserve grade team. He was clearly talented, but the Rabbitohs were concerned that he wasn’t fit enough to keep up with the fast-paced action of the NRL.

Already hovering around 10% body fat, this not only wouldn’t be easy for Mailata, it wouldn’t be safe. “They wanted me to lose 15 more kilos. It was impossible because I was at 10 percent body fat,” Mailata told the Sydney Morning Herald. “That wasn’t healthy at all, but I laugh at it now.” He has a good reason to laugh. Mailata passed on the $5000 contract and last year he signed an $88 million deal with the Eagles.

Mailata abandoned his hopes of playing rugby league and explored other sports before settling on American football. He joined the NFL’s international player pathway program (IPP). Picking the position of offensive tackle purely because he had seen the role highlighted in ‘The Blind Side’, starring Sandra Bullock.

If you’ve seen The Blind Side, you would understand the supreme importance of Mailata’s position. Left tackle is often called the second most important position in football, besides the quarterback of course. The role requires a combination of quick footwork and earth-moving strength, which Mailata has in abundance, as he’s earned a reputation as a human wrecking ball.

It was during his time in the IPP that Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland took notice of Mailata. While he had never played the sport before and lacked the kind of technique that develops after years of training, Mailata clearly had the physical key’s and work ethic to be a successful NFL player.

Mailata’s hard work paid off. He was selected by the Eagles with the 233rd overall pick in the 2018 draft. He signed a rookie contract worth $4 million, quite the step-up from the $5000 deal the Rabbitohs offered him. Mailata made the Eagles final roster but spent most of his first two NFL seasons recovering from a series of injuries.

Seizing an opportunity created by injuries to his teammates, Mailata made his NFL debut in week two of the 2020 season and became a starter two weeks later. From there, he never looked back. He emerged as an unstoppable force on the Eagles offensive line. Becoming one of the top players at his position in the 2020 and 2021 seasons before signing a jaw-dropping $88 million contract in 2022. For reference, the highest played player in the NRL makes around $1.3 million per year.

Mailata has continued to improve this season, a testament to his hardcore work ethic. He’s become the cornerstone of the Eagles offense. And there’s now just one game standing between him and a Super Bowl victory. Whatever the outcome of the game, Mailata has already proven that hard work truly does pay off.

Cayle Reid

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything health and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or waking up early to watch sports in incompatible time zones.

More From

Timana Tahu Over the Black Dot
Dual rugby international Timana Tahu on ‘Over the Black Dot’, the 2024 NRL season, and the importance of spotlighting Indigenous athletes

Dual rugby international Timana Tahu on ‘Over the Black Dot’, the 2024 NRL season, and the importance of spotlighting Indigenous athletes

One of the few men to represent Australia internationally in both rugby league and rugby union, Timana Tahu knows a thing or two about footy. On the eve of the NRL’s opening round and the premiere of Over the Black Dot’s latest season, Tahu caught up with Men’s Health to discuss the year ahead in rugby league—and why Indigenous athletes should be at the forefront.