Te Arahi Maipi lives the dream that many of us have: he gets paid (big bucks probably too) to watch and talk about Rugby League. After a decade of working with Maori Television in New Zealand he’s been at Sky Sports for a couple of years where he hosts the After Match which is New Zealand’s post-match Warriors show. TA loves his rugby league, but he also loves his NRL Fantasy. As such he’s the ideal guy to fire some questions at in between writing player profiles.
You’re the host of the After Match on Sky Sports, in my books that makes you an NRL insider, do you think being an insider is beneficial to your NRL Fantasy side or detrimental?
It might be detrimental because last year was my worst fantasy season ever! Warrior game days are especially tough on my fantasy teams because I'm focused on my show. So, if there’s some late changes to rosters in games straight after I get done I’m in trouble. Any insider knowledge we get about positional/line-ups is all revealed an hour before kick-off so I don't think there's a huge advantage. Plus, as a broadcaster we analyse the game differently from a pure individual stat focus. It might be more beneficial to tipping comps. 2016 was pretty kind to me there.
What sort of stats do you guys often talk about that don't get enough attention from fans?
From a game perspective, I'm always really interested in where on the field teams score and concede tries. You get a strong sense on match-ups and in which third of the field the game will be played in and which player might be in for a big night.
Do the Warriors even have a preference? They seem to concede and score from everywhere!
Yeah bro they had a few issues last year and a few years before that too. Off memory the left side conceded the most tries in the comp last year. That tells me as a broadcaster that side will get plenty of action and as a fantasy player it will be a good idea to start any right-side guys I have on my roster that play for the opposition. But that's last year!
Fantasy sports are massive in the United States do you ever think Te Arahi Maipi will be hosting “TA’s NRL Fantasy Show with Steve Nicholls” on Sky Sport 11 any time soon? I think it would be a hit.
I know bro I'm a Fantasy NBA tragic. I love their online pieces. Really insightful. You'd be great on the show but everyone would be wondering "what the hell is the other guy doing on there? He's a H2H player!" As its popularity grows and it becomes more mainstream I can definitely see it being included more into game broadcasts.
So, you think that NRL people are starting to recognise Fantasy and Supercoach as a more “mainstream” form of enjoying NRL and we won’t forever be stuck hiding in the shadows?
Yeah for sure. It still has a long way to go to get to the level it is in States but it's becoming more the norm. It wasn't too long ago that online tipping comps were just for a small niche. It all drives interest in the sport so it's a positive all round. My co-hosts laugh every time they see me doing the first pumps they know someone on TA's team just broke two tackles, with an off load to set up a try. Don't worry guys I'm representing for all us Fantasy players.
Are there any current or ex-players that you want to out as being closet fantasy nuts?
They all know about it that's for sure. I honestly don't know who plays Fantasy NRL. I'm pretty certain a few would play NFL and NBA.
Who was your favourite player growing up that you think would be a gun fantasy player?
Oh man I had heaps! Bobby Lindner, Paul Sironen, Jim Dymock, Clayton Friend and the list goes on. My favourite though was Kevin Iro. The Beast would have gone alright in attacking stats I reckon. Thinking about it a dude like Steve Menzies in his prime would have been a fantasy gun, Craig Fitzgibbon would have been a keeper too.
Well Fitzgibbon is getting inducted into the RFS NRL Fantasy Hall of Fame this year so you're on the money there. I loved Geoff Toovey so much I had a jacket that I wrote Toovey on the back off with the number 7. It's embarrassing to think about now. He would have had some nice defensive stats but might have lacked the kicking game to be a real elite player. Have you gotten to work with any of your heroes? You must have come across Friend and Iro in your travels?
Yep my three biggest fan boy moments as a reporter was interviewing Kevin Iro, Clayton Friend and Arthur Beetson. All of them are champions. I worked with Iro in Rarotonga covering the Cook Island v NZ Maori rugby league series in 2006. The Kuki's were short of players for the 3rd test, Kev calls me that morning to say he can't commentate he has to play. That day he scored two tries set up two more and smashed anything that came near him. His stats would have been through the roof!
That’s brilliant. So, you mentioned that you’re into your NBA Fantasy, how long have you done that? Play any other fantasy sports?
I've played for the past 5 years. I didn't this year because I was on tour with the Kiwis when the season started. Gutted man because I don't feel whole. My NBA draft days are awesome! I book it out with the wife, grab my 12-year-old son (who's a sports nut like me), go off to the shops to get all the twisties, chocky, lollies and fizzy drink and we are off to the local Internet cafe. We do it there so we don't get bothered by the whanau.
Currently the After Match has you in an interview/analyst role is that the sort of role you prefer or are we going to see you doing play by play commentary on Warriors games sometime in the future?
I really enjoy both and I've been lucky enough to fill both roles on some awesome sporting events. In whatever I do on TV I try deliver in an infotainment style. I'm just stoked to be in broadcast team. It's a real professional crew that love their footy.
I’ve always thought rugby league commentary hit its pinnacle in the Origin series of 1993. Who’s your favourite league commentators of the past and present?
Ray Warren is the undisputed king. I was a huge fan of Darrell Eastlake and Graham Hughes. The current crop of commentators are excellent. Matt Thompson and Warren Smith are probably the guys I enjoy listening to the most. To be honest though I'll watch anything with Yvonne Sampson on it, she's awesome!
You’re passionate about Te Reo Maori. For some of us, particular our Australian brothers, the most Maori we’d speak is pronouncing Matulino. Are there any player names out there that you’re sick of hearing people butchering?
Hahaha first up brother Matulino is Samoan. I am very passionate about our language. I see my role as a broadcaster is to help normalise Te Reo and it starts with pronunciation. There are some commentators in both league and union that do a great job pronouncing Maori and Pacific Island names correctly. The more people hear it said right it becomes normal for everyone to say it that way. I believe it's our responsibility as commentators
I was just testing you on Matulino….. Let’s talk about this season, first we need to establish your fantasy credentials so we know how much stock to put in your opinions. You mentioned last year wasn’t your best but what is your best finish or are you a H2H guy?
Up until last year I was exclusively H2H. Got talked into giving overall a go and it ruined me in both. I can't remember final rank but it wasn't flash it was in the 2000's. Didn't cash in any of my H2H leagues either which doesn't often happen. So, after that big long sad story not very good. However, The Lonewolf has enjoyed some past glory in my H2H leagues.
I use top 3k as a marker. If you are a decent fantasy player and things go wrong 3k is still a mark you should be looking to get. So, you're fine. Who’s the first player you select this season?
Cam Smith (always) but based on value Jarryd Hayne goes straight in. With a full pre-season under his belt and being the guy in a very exciting team like the Titans the man should kill it. My teams are fairly conservative with a slant to dual position players for versatility. Always looking for value buys in the centres, hate the thought of buying a top tier centre at the start.
The centre position always has so much year to year volatility so I agree with that a lot. It looks like DPP is harder to come by this season though. Most teams only have two or three DPP guys and a lot aren't very relevant. Tell us about the Warriors this year who do you think is going to be fantasy relevant?
The usual suspects. Johnson and Mannering will be right up there. Bodene Thompson was stud in fantasy and real life. RTS is a value buy so he's a must. The interesting thing will be what effect Kieran Foran has on Shaun Johnson if he ends up playing. If he does and if the Warriors fulfil their potential it has to be a positive for SJ, prospects only go up if he gets goal kicking duties.
Surely Luke doesn’t keep the goal kicking?
Well I guess that depends on Johnson. On the Kiwi tour both of them along with Jordan Kahu shared the kicking duties.
Who benefits from Ben Matulino’s injury?
That's a tricky one due to the erratic nature of his selection last year. He has a diverse skill-set that translates well to fantasy. I don't see another player quite like him on the roster. At face value this should open the door for Sam Lisone or Albert Vete to lock in a middle starting spot. With a new coach comes a new playing style and rotation philosophy. So, to cut a long story short... I have no idea.
Any cash cows? Too soon for Isaah Papali’i?
I know Papali'i personally. He's been my son’s club and rep team mate since he was 14 and the kid has always been a freak. His development has been down to his unreal work ethic and his level head. He might be a year away but the hype is real about this kid. Etene Nanai is also another elite talent. Both are destined for success in the NRL.
Do you know much about Junior Pauga? He might be closer to getting a run this year
I really like Junior Pauga and the Warriors are stocked top tier talent in the centres. I'm really glad they resigned him. He's very good on attack but needs to be tested at NSW Cup level especially on defence. A couple of guys that already have first grade experience could get more game time are Toafofoa Sipley and Bunty Afoa. Both could be fantasy relevant this season.
If there is a bright side to Matulino's injury it is getting to see how those two deal with first grade. They're promising. I’ve had a soft spot for Charzne Nicholl Klokstad since I saw a YouTube video of him last off-season. He had a strong NSW Cup season and looks to have been featuring a bit in the off-season promotional commitments. How’s he looking?
Another player I've known since he was a kid. Great attitude, good talent and very versatile. In regards to that utility position you have Tui Lolohea and Nathaniel Roache ahead of him with a whole host of guys who can fill the wings and fullback spots. He had a strong year with the NSW Cup last season but my feeling is he might be a bit further down the depth charts to be in contention to have an impact in 1st grade.
Thanks for your time TA. Hope you have a big season!