When Sia Soliola first arrived in Canberra at the back end of 2014 in preparation for the 2015 season, he sat down with Coach Ricky Stuart and they discussed where they thought the club could get to with the right people, attitude, hard work, and commitment.
Stuart had just finished his first season as Head Coach of the Green Machine and was looking for players who could come into the club and help instill the correct values and attributes that could help build sustained success.
One of the first names on his list was Sia Soliola, who at the time was at the top of his game for St Helens in the Super League. Stuart had worked with Soliola previously at the Roosters, where the two had forged a special relationship that would push past the boundaries of the playing and training fields.
After agreeing to an initial deal with the club, Soliola soon made his mark on the club’s culture and playing group and has since developed into one of the sides most influential leaders and mentors. Since arriving in Canberra Soliola has extended his contract on two separate occasions and this new one-year deal will see him remain with the club next season.
When reflecting on his early days with the Raiders Soliola remembers vividly the conversation he had with Stuart and he can now enjoy the fulfillment of the plans they discussed when he first set foot in Canberra.
“The discussions I first had with Ricky, he outlined his vision to me and when I arrived at the start of 2015 you could tell right from the start where he wanted to go with it,” Soliola said. “You build and obviously have to chop and change as you go, but it’s great to be part of the journey and see the progression of the club in general. The players obviously, but also the connection between the fans and the club and the growth and buy-in between everyone spreads out into the community.”
Now, after a season which has seen unprecedented interruptions and challenges like no other, including the COVID shutdown and a long-term facial injury, Soliola said he signs this new deal with the feeling that he can continue the journey with the club which gave him the opportunity to return and succeed in the NRL.
“I’m really pumped. First and foremost, I want to thank the club for giving me another opportunity to play,” Soliola said. “The year I’ve had has been a strange one but it its really nice at 34 to be playing the game I love. I’m really enjoying it and it’s a great group of guys and I think this club is going to be a consistent title contender for the future and I want to be part of that.”
There’s no denying that Soliola has his own personal connection not only with the Raiders but also the city of Canberra, which was typified on Grand Final night last year as he was handed the Ken Stephen Medal for his work in the community.
Soliola said the connection he’s been able to establish in Canberra is something special to him personally and he hopes he can continue his work both on and off the field.
“I guess it’s just an automatic reflection on how I feel about the place, I love this game, I love this club and I want to give back because its given me so much and I’ve generated so much from it that its only right that I give something back,” he said. “It’s an amazing game, so many people get so much out of it and everyone wins at the end of the day.
“My family and I love it here. The kids love it here especially my oldest boy. He was actually quite emotional given the potential idea of moving away because he loves this place and it's all he knows.
“Canberra is an awesome place and I’m very thankful for the club for introducing me to it.”