ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Raised on a steady diet of rugby, rugby and more rugby, Junior Teleni never imagined he would one day play in an Illawarra Coal League grand final.
But that's exactly where the one-man wrecking crew will find himself on Sunday when he lines up for Collegians against Helensburgh in the premiership decider at WIN Stadium.
"Growing up in New Zealand, I've always been a union boy. That's the No 1 sport," Teleni said.
"I'd never played league in my life. I decided to give it a crack."
Teleni arrived in Australia five years ago and immediately started playing with University in the Illawarra rugby competition.
He became a regular in the Illawarriors rep side and was known for his damaging runs in the centres.
But the league bug bit at the end of 2011 and, as luck would have it, Teleni bumped into incoming Collies coach Scott Logan.
"I told Loges I was interested in crossing over if he was looking for a six-foot-two, 110-kilogram back," Teleni explained.
"He said he'd give me an opportunity and it went from there.
"I don't want to sound arrogant, but the Illawarra rugby comp was getting a little bit too easy and I was getting bored.
"Watching the NRL, I started thinking I'd like to try it, league. It's pretty big over here and I thought I'd try something different."
After a few early teething problems, Teleni was soon making his presence felt for the Dogs.
So much so that he was selected in the Illawarra rep team.
"One of the reasons I crossed over was to challenge myself and see if I was good enough to make the top side," the 32-year-old gym manager said.
"It was funny because it was actually my wife [Elena] who told me to give it a go.
"It was a little tricky at first and took a little time to get used to, just with defensive lines being a bit different. But the attacking lines are similar in regards to running holes and I picked up the game as we went.
"Making the Illawarra rep side in my first year was nice to know I was doing something right."
Teleni said the speed, strength and skill level of the players in the Coal League were a step up from Illawarra rugby.
"Some of the boys say the Illawara comp is the toughest country-based league comp in Australia, and you can see why," the father of two said.
"You have to be on your toes every week to get in the top side. I love the challenge, I thrive on the challenge, and I love the contact as well.
"Migrating to Wollongong, one thing I never got to do was play in a rugby grand final with Uni. To have the opportunity in just my second season of rugby league, it's massive."
Teleni still watches Uni play when it doesn't clash with his league commitments.
"My heart lies with the Mallee Bulls," he said.
"I've still got mates there and I've been tracking most of their games when I can. It's good to see them clinch fourth spot and hopefully they'll keep going."
Collies go into the grand final as favourites. They had Helensburgh's measure in three meetings this year, including a 30-28 victory in the major semi-final.
"We were lucky to get out of jail in the major semi," Teleni said.
"All the boys spoke about it at training and we know we didn't play up to our potential.
"Helensburgh are going to be extremely tough."