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Legend Q&A: Braith Anasta

As a youngster, Braith Anasta was a Rabbitohs fanatic who could well have pursued golf over rugby league.

But footy was his "first love", and while he never wore the cardinal and myrtle in the NRL, he enjoyed a fantastic career that included a premiership plus State of Origin and Test honours.

The five-eighth or back-rower admitted he endured "a lot of drama" in his playing days after bursting onto the scene as an 18-year-old.

Now a Fox League commentator, Anasta spoke with NRL.com to reflect on the highs, lows and controversy of 288 matches for the Bulldogs, Roosters and Wests Tigers from 1999 to 2014.

Legend Q&A: Braith Anasta

You grew up playing for the Maroubra Lions. What was junior footy like?

Junior footy was great. I was a tragic Souths supporter, grew up in Malabar which is heartland. I played against La Perouse, I was in the heartland of Bunnies territory. My uncle [George Piggins] was the [Rabbitohs] president, all that. So I was one red eye, one green eye.

The Maroubra Lions were red and green too, they were pretty much Souths jerseys, so that attracted me to them. My really good mates played there, we had a team for over a decade – same squad. Reni Maitua played with me for a few years there, we were good mates.

We loved it. Our dream was to play for Souths. We had a pretty successful side too, so it was good fun.

Was footy always what you wanted to do? I've read you love your golf – did you focus on that as a kid as well?

Rugby league was my first love and then as I got older I played a lot of rugby union. Then I played cricket, I played everything.

But I remember when I was about 13, probably a little bit younger, I moved to a house that was on a golf course and then I fell in love with golf. I played every day. The story there is when I was about 15, I got a scholarship and I was playing off scratch [or] plus-one. I was in the state teams, all that sort of thing, for golf.

I thought I'd have the year off league and union to play golf for the year and give it a red-hot crack. And then within a year of that happening, I got offered a contract at Souths and I took it.

So at a very young age [golf] was an option for me, but that was very early doors. Obviously I ended up back where I started in league.

As a mad Souths fan and your uncle being George Piggins, how did it feel when the Rabbitohs were kicked out of the competition in 1999?

That was tough. All my dream was to play for Souths and I didn't care about any other side, that's just being brutally honest. George, obviously being the president, knew what was happening at board level and knew they were gone.

So he said to me and my parents at the time: 'He's got to go somewhere else, he can't stay here. There's going to be no first-grade team for the next couple of years and he's probably a year or two off.'

Then I met with the Melbourne Storm. I met with Chris Anderson in Melbourne, that was an amazing experience. I met with the Roosters, I remember Artie Beetson and Freddie [Fittler].

Braith Anasta in action for the Bulldogs.
Braith Anasta in action for the Bulldogs. ©NRL Photos

And then I met with Canterbury. Canterbury was my uncle's preferred choice because obviously the rivalry there with Souths and the Roosters. And Melbourne, the only reason I didn't go there is because I would've had to leave my Mum, and my Dad had only just passed away not long before.

It was a bit of a tough one for me, so I ended up choosing Canterbury. But no regrets, it was a great decision.

Could you have imagined just how well your career would start?

No. It was surreal, it really was. I don't think anyone could. I had played in all the [junior] rep teams and dreamt of playing first-grade, but the way it started was just a whirlwind.

It was very publicised and it was pretty crazy. Rookie of the Year [2000] and a Kangaroo tour and all that, it was above anything I'd ever dreamed of.

Did the 2002 Bulldogs salary cap scandal knock you about or were you able to roll with it leading into the '04 premiership?

It knocked me around. I'd had quite a lot of success playing footy and I just loved what I did and I was carefree. But when the salary cap [scandal] hit and I was the face of it and all that, I look back now and obviously being older and wiser I probably shouldn't have let it affect me, it was out of my control, but you just do as a young fella.

I had a lot of drama in my career, whether I wanted it or not, but at the end of the day I don't regret anything. It was a pretty amazing career. It's got me to where I am now, even working for Fox, so I'm pretty grateful for it all.

Braith Anasta in action for the Blues.
Braith Anasta in action for the Blues. ©NRL Photos

What prompted you to join the Roosters in '06?

The main reason was Ricky Stuart was my [NSW] coach. In 2005 we won the [State of Origin] series up at Suncorp and I played under Ricky with Joey [Johns] and a few others. I had a great series and I was a big fan of Ricky as a coach. 

The Bulldogs didn't have room for me there. They just re-signed Sonny [Bill Williams] and Willie [Mason] and they told me there was no room for me, which I was shattered about. Then I really had the decision to go to Souths or the Roosters. 

Souths at the time were only just getting themselves back on their feet and I was just hitting the kind of peak of my career. So it was a bit of a dilemma there as to do I go and try to rebuild Souths or do I go to a pretty successful club where the Origin coach is going to be your coach?

It was really hard. That was the hardest decision of my life. To not go to Souths was heartbreaking for me and the family. It caused a bit of drama and the Souths fans have never forgiven me for it. But at the end of the day, I wouldn't have ended up captaining the Roosters. That's how I ended up there.

For all the amazing things in your career, one of your most replayed moments is that incident with ex-Rabbitohs forward David Fa'alogo. What do you think when you see it now?

If I'm being honest with you, I think, 'What a dog!' [Laughs]. That's being honest. It's a moment that everyone replays and Souths love it. At the time, I was pretty cut about it because I pretty much just got king hit, so it did some damage.

It was just a dog shot. It's part of history now and I have a laugh about it, we all do. Everyone replays it, everyone sends it to me and all that. You've just got to have a bit of fun with it. But if you asked me what I really thought at the time, I thought, 'What a dog'.

Braith Anasta makes a break for the Roosters.
Braith Anasta makes a break for the Roosters. ©NRL Photos

Have you ever hit a sweeter field goal than the one against Wests Tigers in that unbelievable 2011 semi-final? And have you ever had a better feeling on the field?

Nah, that was unreal, man. That was crazy. I was always big on field goals and I kicked quite a few. It wasn't the field goal as such, it was just the moment. Every kid, all of us, growing up, you're in the backyard ... I was in the backyard with my brother and my friends and even Maroubra Lions – you want to be in that position to win a game for your team. You want to come up with a big play, a big moment when everyone's watching. That's kind of your dream, you get goosebumps thinking about it.

Here I am, big moment, big play, it was time to stand up at the back-end of my career. So because of that, it was just really special, mate. It was the best feeling ever. All my mates give me a bit of shit because it gets played so much! They're like, 'Mate, let it go'. But it was just an epic moment.

Braith Anasta with NSW City teammate Hazem El Masri.
Braith Anasta with NSW City teammate Hazem El Masri. ©NRL Photos

You played for NSW, Australia and Greece as well. Do you have a highlight from your rep career?

I think the highlight would've been the 2005 [Origin] series with Joey and Ricky as the coach and winning up there at Suncorp. That was just before the dream run for Queensland, so that was a really special time.

Playing for Greece [in 2013] was unreal, going to Greece for a month with Steve Georgallis and helping a lot of the kids from the islands come and learn the game of rugby league. And then picking our Test team and watching them play and grow was an awesome experience for me to go back to where my Dad came from.

I hadn't been there before, so that was magical.

How'd you feel about ending your career at the Wests Tigers?

It's been well-spoken about – that didn't end well. The reality was Tim Sheens rang me to go play there for my last couple of years. He had certain ways he wanted to play me and he wanted me to be more like, I suppose, an assistant coach, leader kind of thing and help with the club because he saw them going kind of downhill at the time.

I thought it'd be a great opportunity for me at the back-end to go in there and play under Sheensy, who was the Australian coach, but also help the side get back on their feet and get them through a bit of a tough time. He didn't see it coming, but he got sacked after I signed the contract. 

It was always going to be hard when that happened. Even the club now I think is still only recovering from that period. It's been tough times there at the Tigers and I was just kind of entering it at that moment. Not ideal, let's be honest. I think both Tigers fans and myself would say it wasn't ideal. It was a little bit disappointing to finish my career that way.

Braith Anasta at the Wests Tigers.
Braith Anasta at the Wests Tigers. ©NRL Photos

You've transitioned seamlessly into the media. What's the best bit about your job at the moment?

It's the best job in the world. Everyone says it while you'e playing, but I try and encourage kids and players now to prepare themselves [for life after football]. The best thing about it is I get to work in the game.

I get to see every game, I get to be around the players, be around the sport, be around the game that's given me everything. And I can just come and go, I don't wake up sore like I used to when I was playing. I can just give my opinion and analysis, but I'm very passionate about it. And that's it, that's my job – to do something that I love doing that I feel comes pretty naturally to me. It's been the best thing that's happened to me. I just love it.