Sia Soliola has announced his retirement from professional rugby league today after 17 seasons playing the game at the highest level.
“I’m at ease with everything now,” Soliola said. “There’s a few mixed emotions, I’m excited and a bit nervous but relieved to make the decision to leave the game which has given me a lot and I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.
Soliola has played a combined total of 336 matches across the NRL and Super League, with 137 of those matches for the Canberra Raiders over 7 seasons.
His announcement headlines several players departing the club playing roster at the end of the 2021 season, with Dunamis Lui, Siliva Havili, Ryan James, Darby Medlyn and Caleb Aekins also finishing their time at the club.
Soliola made his NRL debut for the Roosters in 2005 under Coach Ricky Stuart, and his career will finish under the same Coach who first gave him his opportunity to pursue his dream of playing rugby league at the highest level.
He arrived in Canberra in 2015 as part of a club rebuild under Coach Ricky Stuart after five years playing for St Helens in the Super League in England. His influence was immediate, and his contributions have helped the club achieve some wonderful successes in his time in green.
“When I first came here to this club and Ricky spoke about the vision and what he had regarding the playing group and the club as a whole, that’s what really excited me,” Soliola said “Especially being over at St Helens where I really enjoyed my time over there and everyone notices how the English Super League operates and how the crowds and communities come together and he wanted me to bring that energy and experience that I had over there and bring it to Canberra.
“Because I went so young when I went to Super League, I felt like I still had a fair bit of time to come back to the NRL. There was always that feeling in the back of your mind whether you could still do it or not, but I was excited with the challenge that was in front of me and I really wanted to do what I could to help influence the team when I came back to Australia.”
The first thing Soliola learned when he arrived was just how much connection the club had had with the game, the community and even his own family and this was something he wanted to be a part of.
“When I signed, I didn’t realise how much influence this club had outside the game itself. My family and friends and the generation I grew up with in the 90’s, my immediate family and parents really understood who guys like Loz (Daley) and Rick and Mal (Meninga) were and they were a big influence on that generation, and it was pretty cool,” he said. “Even knowing guys like Gerry (De La Cruz) before I came here and then learning on how big of a part he played here as Raider #3 was nice to uncover all of those stories and learn as much as I could.”
Soliola’s willingness to buy into the club and the community has seen him become one of the most loved and respected players in the club’s history, with his work off the field as equally as impressive as what he’s been able to achieve on the field for the club.
This culminated in 2019 when he was awarded the prestigious Ken Stephen Medal after the Raiders Grand Final appearance against the Roosters.
Soliola said his love for helping others and engaging with his community stems from his own life experiences and said his late mother Fialelei has been and always will be his inspiration for being someone who looks out for others.
“I have to pay tribute to my late mother who passed away this year, and with her being gone and as a family as a whole reflecting on her time here it made me really think about why I do the things I do,” Soliola said. “It’s really been a tribute to her and how she operated within our family. It’s no surprise that I followed in her footsteps and I contribute a lot of how I do things in my life to her.
“She’s always been the type to bring everybody in together and connecting people and getting an understanding of what we’re all about. She always wanted to see the bigger picture and so do I thanks to her.
On the field Soliola was a fierce competitor who always led from the front with his actions. He made an immediate impact when he arrived in 2015, winning the Meninga Medal in his first season and was part of the Raiders squad which made their first preliminary final in over two decades in 2016.
He said his first two years at the club was an opportunity to establish what the team was trying to do by connecting with the community and improving on-field performance, with the team taking some huge steps forward in that period.
“It meant we were moving in the right direction and we were doing the right things both on and off the field. When I first came here Rick was about getting the right people and connecting with the community first and that was a big push for the playing group,” he said. “Getting that respect back from the community and earning their trust again and then marrying it up with the performances on the field.”
Despite two disappointing seasons in 2017-18, Soliola said the belief within the squad was still strong and it was the foundation the club had set was the catalyst for what they were able to achieve by making the Grand Final in 2019.
“There was a lot of lessons to be learned through those years (2017-18), but we were always confident we were heading in the right direction and in 19 we were just the one game away from making all the difference,” Soliola said. “Even though we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal I have no regrets with my time here and I’m really excited with my next phase to try and help the club wherever I can.”
That opportunity now comes with the commencement of his new role in the club’s welfare and education team, a role which he has already commenced this year in a learning capacity.
Soliola will swap his footy boots for a laptop and will be tasked with the responsibility of passing on what he has learnt to help educate, inspire and guide the next generation of Raiders.
“I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life and working in this space,” Soliola said. “I’ve had the chance to do a little bit, but obviously Covid and the team relocating to Queensland prevented me doing too much, but I now get the opportunity to really harness it, and focus on it, and I’m excited to work with Andrew Bishop and David Thom in that space, and with guys like Dean Souter who have been in this area as well. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by all of that experience.”
Soliola said he’d always remember his time in green and wanted to make sure he thanked all of the clubs members, supporters and community members for their support over his time wearing the green jersey.
“To the members, supporters and the community I just want to really thank everyone for their support and just really embracing me. I really feel like a son here,” he said. “Whether I’m dropping off the kids to school or playing in the park those little memories and relationships I’ve built I hold very dear, and everyone has really being comfortable to approach me and treat me not so much as a player but as a friend and have a chat to them and that’s what I love about Canberra, it’s one big family.”
Departing Raiders end of 2021
Sia Soliola (Raider #326) Retiring
Raiders Matches: 137 (2015-2021)
Career First Grade Matches: 336
NRL Career Matches: 229 (Raiders 137, Roosters 92)
Super League Matches: 117 (St Helens)
Representative Matches: 16 (New Zealand 12, Samoa 4)
Dunamis Lui (Raider #342)
Raiders Matches: 89 (2017-2021)
Siliva Havili (Raider #347)
Raiders Matches: 80 (2018-2021)
Darby Medlyn (Raider #372)
Raiders Matches: 1 (2020)
Ryan James (Raider #374)
Raiders Matches: 12 (2021)
Caleb Aekins (Raider #375)
Raiders Matches: 7 (2021)