Soliola in NRL grand final after 15 years
Almost 15 years after Canberra coach Ricky Stuart signed Sia Soliola to the NRL, the pair will contest their first grand final together on Sunday.
Stuart gave Soliola his first NRL contract at the Sydney Roosters as a teenager in 2004 and the New Zealander made his first-grade debut the following season.
A decade later and Stuart recruited Soliola again, this time to the Raiders from Super League club St Helens. The duo are now looking to upset their former club in the premiership decider.
It marks the eighth grand final for Stuart as a player and coach but the first for Soliola who has developed a reputation as Canberra's spiritual leader in recent years.
To understand what this week means to Soliola, you only had to watch his reaction when the Raiders secured a crucial turnover in the dying minutes against South Sydney last Friday.
The 33-year-old screamed with passion and pumped both arms towards the crowd in celebration before Canberra held on for a gutsy 16-10 win.
The victory means Canberra now has a crack at ending a 25-year title drought when they face the Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
"It means a lot. Considering all the hard work that's been put in and it's not just this year, it's over the last couple of years," Soliola told AAP.
"I've told all our young guys that (the) situation we're in is very, very rare. I've never played in a grand final in Australia.
"Our supporters deserve this just as much as we do. (Souths) wasn't our best game but it really epitomised how we've played all season.
"There were patches there we could have easily dropped our bundle but the guys stuck solid. I've said it before, the spirit is strong here."
Canberra recruitment boss Peter Mulholland said Stuart brought Soliola to Canberra for more than his football prowess in 2015.
"Sia is what every club needs. Ricky knew exactly what he was doing when he got him," Mullholland said.
"Ricky has the utmost respect for him and I think it was a masterstroke because not only is he playing great footy, he's also a great leader and a great example for young players about humility."
© AAP 2019