Timana Tahu On ‘Over The Black Dot’ And The 2024 NRL Season

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.

LESS THAN 50 MEN have represented Australia in both rugby league and rugby union. And only four have done both since 2000. We live in an age of code wars, but with the increasing specialisation within the disciplines, to reach the pinnacle of both is becoming harder to accomplish and is reserved for only the very best of athletes. Timana Tahu was one such athlete.

Over the first eight years of his professional career, Tahu was one of the NRL’s most prolific try scorers. Possessing lightning quick speed and a powerful fend, Tahu scored 121 tries in the NRL and represented both New South Wales in State of Origin and the Australian national team. He made headlines in 2008 by switching codes to play for the NSW Waratahs and the Wallabies, where he was similarly successful. Nowadays, Tahu plies his trade in footballing punditry, as a panellist on Over the Black Dot.

Over the Black Dot is National Indigenous Television’s (NITV) flagship footy show. Hosted by NRL legend Dean Widders, the show taps the talents of expert analysts like Tahu to discuss the latest news in rugby league, from grassroots games to the professional grade. The show will return for a new season on Tuesday next week, and as Tahu forecasts, 2024 isn’t year you’ll want to miss in rugby league. “It’s going to be a massive year in footy,” he says. “I feel like rugby league as a product is so healthy at the moment and the talent we’ve got is really strong. Every game is going to be high quality.

There is reason to believe that 2024 will be the biggest year in rugby league to date. For starters, the NRL season will open with if its greatest showcase in history, a highly anticipated double header at Allegiant stadium in Las Vegas, where the Super Bowl was played just three weeks ago. It is hoped that the event will expose the game to an entirely new audience, and having briefly played rugby union for the Denver Stampede in the USA, Tahu is uniquely qualified to comment on the occasion.

“To have the NRL go there and play in a massive arena will be huge. I think the game suits the heavy-hitting style that Americans love watching and it will be a great showcase,” says Tahu, though, he will admit that the US tends to lean towards rugby union at the present time. “When you talk about rugby, Americans think about rugby union,” he says. But if anything, all that means is that the market is primed for a shakeup, as audiences are already accustomed to a similar, free-flowing sport.

As part of his role on Over the Black Dot, Tahu believes it’s important to bring attention to the achievements of Indigenous players and the work they do in their communities. “Our show provides that space to showcase Indigenous talent,” he says. “Some of the best players in the league are Indigenous. You see them playing in [State of] Origins and for Australia, but there are also a number of players who don’t get that spotlight.”

Indigenous NRL stars serve as important role models for Indigenous communities, according to Tahu. “Indigenous NRL and NRLW athletes are watched constantly by kids in grassroots areas and communities look up to them. It’s important for them to have good morals and lead by example,” he says. “It can also be a big weight on their shoulders sometimes. They don’t want to disappoint their families and their communities, but they do a lot of good work.”

“What I see during events like the All Stars, the Koori knockouts and Murri carnivals is players doing work outside of football with initiatives and organisations to make a difference,” Tahu says. “A lot of the time we don’t see that on TV, so to shine a light on the work they do is so important.”

With the opening kick-off of the 2024 NRL season just days away, we asked Tahu for his take on this year’s premiership favourites, as well the players he believes will light up the field. Find Tahu’s full predictions below.

 

Timana Tahu’s predictions for the 2024 NRL season

 

Timana Tahu Over the Black Dot

SBS | Dave Ollier

 

Men’s Health: Is there a team that sticks out to you as the front runner to win the premiership this year?

Timana Tahu: The Penrith Panthers just look so good. The thing is that they’re a young side. Most of them are in their mid to early 20s and they already have experience winning premierships from an early age. You don’t start peaking until you’re about 25, 26 or 27, so the Penrith players haven’t even peaked yet, or they’re just hitting it now, which is scary. They have a way of just smothering teams and restricting their play. I know a lot of people will be hating on them and wanting them to lose, but I think they’re easily the best team in the comp.

After Penrith, I’d probably go with the Brisbane Broncos. They had their chance in the Grand Final last year and having unfinished business is something that will heat them up heading into the season. Those are the teams I see as the front runners to win the competition at the moment.

MH: Who are the players that you’re excited to see this season?

TT: Two players that stand out to me are J’maine Hopgood and Josh Curran. They’re not the biggest names that the media always talks about, but if you’re a player, you want those type of guys on your team. I feel like J’maine is close to [State of] Origin level. He is such a good player and has grown so much over the years. He plays a big part in that Parramatta Eels side. He knows how to control the ruck and he’s also a great defender.

Josh Curran is coming from the Warriors over to the Bulldogs in a new system. I spoke to him in Indigenous All Stars camp and he seems to be really happy to be back in Australia. The Bulldogs are just building their foundation so it’ll be good to see where he works into it.

MH: Latrell Mitchell recently captained the Indigenous All Stars team. Do you see a big year ahead for him?

TT: When he was in All Stars camp, he lost 5 kilos. I saw him and said ‘You look like you’ve lost weight,’ and he said ‘I’ve lost 5 kilos, I’ve been training so hard’. He’s disciplined, he’s a leader, he looks calmer, he’s in great shape and I think he’s ready for a big year.

For him to be losing weight and looking after his body, it’s a sign that he’s worked on something he thought that he was missing last year, which to me is saying he’s engaged and wants and to be competitive with the Rabbitohs. And if the Rabbitohs are going to win, he needs to be playing a 10 out 10 game, every game.

I think being named captain for the All Stars has helped him become more aware about his responsibilities with his team. He showed really good leadership and showed stuff he probably didn’t know he had. That would’ve been an eye opener for him and hopefully he’s taken that to heart. Expect big things from Latrell this year.

 

 

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Over the Black Dot airs weekly from Tuesday 5 March, live at 9.30pm on NITV and SBS On Demand.

 

Related:

Your ultimate guide to the 2024 NRL season

How NRL stars prepare for a massive season

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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