Former NRL star Fuifui Moimoi has signed for League One side Rochdale Hornets for the 2021 season to keep him playing past 40. “My body will tell me when I’ve had enough, then I’ll stop,” the prop said
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 05/03/21 5:52am
It is difficult to imagine Fuifui Moimoi being nervous about anything.
Standing at 6ft tall and weighing 16st 7lb, the prop cuts an imposing figure. That is before you consider he has over 200 games of NRL experience under his belt, along with having faced some of rugby league’s fiercest competitors on the international stage for both Tonga and New Zealand.
Yet he admits the nerves were jangling when he arrived at Hopwood Hall College for his first training session with head coach Matt Calland and his new team-mates at Rochdale Hornets as preparations for the 2021 League One season got underway.
“Honestly, I was a bit nervous when I first started with Matt and the boys, but the last couple of weeks I’ve really enjoyed training with them,” Moimoi said.
“I’ve never worked with a coach who is that fit. We’re working hard on our fitness and he is fitter than most of the players!
“It’s really good with Matt though and I’m looking forward to the season starting and working within the squad.”
Moimoi’s decision to sign a deal with Rochdale for the 2021 season means he will become a rarity at professional level in playing on past the age of 40, having made his debut for Parramatta Eels way back in Round 8 of the 2004 NRL season.
The hard-charging, big-hitting front row became a cult hero in Australia and beyond during his time with the Eels, but a desire to move away from being under the microscope in the NRL led to him joining Leigh Centurions – then in the Championship – in 2015.
What was originally meant to be a one-year stay ended up being extended to a second season, followed by spells with Toronto Wolfpack and, most recently, Workington Town. Although even then Moimoi did not envision still pulling on his boots into his 40s.
“When I finished with Parramatta, I wasn’t really keen to come and play Super League,” Moimoi said. “I wanted to come to Leigh just to enjoy my time here just for one year, but when I turned up I enjoyed things so much and that’s why I kept going.
“It’s more relaxed and not as tough as back home. I’m more relaxed and enjoying my footy more over here than back in Australia.
I’m from Leigh and I fully appreciated and saw the impact he had when he arrived there, and that’s something I was keen to see happen in Rochdale.
Rochdale chairman Andy Mazey on Fuifui Moimoi
“I don’t think I expected to still be playing at 40.”
Moimoi quickly established himself as a terrace favourite at the Centurions too, and one person who could not help but take notice of that was Rochdale chairman and Leigh native Andy Mazey.
Watching him in action for Workington in the 2018 League One play-off final against Bradford Bulls left Mazey, who led a takeover of the Hornets after leaving Swinton Lions in 2019, in no doubt as to his ability to make an impression on the field too.
“I’m from Leigh and I fully appreciated and saw the impact he had when he arrived there, and that’s something I was keen to see happen in Rochdale,” Mazey said. “I know the interest and what I’ve always found with Fui is he’s got that charisma and personality.
“There was a genuine feeling he can do the business on the field still. I’ve seen him play for Workington and the way Matt is going to use him, he can still have a massive impact at this level on the sport.”
Moimoi looks back fondly on his three-season stint with Workington, recalling with delight how the fans addressed him as “Marra” – a term of endearment in West Cumbrian dialect – but having a baby daughter aged just nine months meant travelling two-and-a-half hours each way for midweek evening training became impractical.
His former Workington team-mate Sean Penkywicz recommended joining him closer to home at Rochdale and having made the switch, he has quickly impressed Calland with the impact he is already making – particularly on the younger members of the squad making their way in the professional game.
“He’s a natural leader and because of all the experience he has in the game, he leads by example and when he speaks everybody listens,” Calland said.
He’s a natural leader and because of all the experience he has in the game, he leads by example and when he speaks everybody listens.
Rochdale head coach Matt Calland on Fuifui Moimoi
“He gives little cues in training to the younger guys in training and it’s invaluable to have him around. I think he’ll be just as valuable off the field as well as on it.”
After seeing their application to join the Championship for 2021 to replace promoted Leigh overlooked in favour of Newcastle Thunder, the Hornets have their sights on being one of the two teams which will be promoted from League One at the end of this season.
Whether Moimoi will stay on beyond this year whatever division Rochdale are in remains to be seen, but he has no plans to call it a day as long as his body still allows him to play.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Moimoi said when asked how long he intends to keep playing for. “I’ll see how my body feels.
“I’ll go every year and my body will tell me when I’ve had enough, then I’ll stop.”