AIDAN Toua was fresh out of school at 18 when he won a premiership with Easts in 2008 without truly realising what a grand final triumph meant.
There was a mass field invasion at Ballymore by Tigers’ fans, a rowdy rendition of the team song and an all-night party back at the club’s Bottomley Park HQ.
Sure, it was a soaring moment to savour but only with Sunday’s shot at a second title with Easts, as a venerable 30-year-old, has the full meaning sunk in.
“I was young, carefree, just playing footy and I don’t think I really got how much that 2008 premiership meant to certain people,” Toua said.
“Now I do.
“I understand what it means to the club, teammates who put in after a full week on the tools, long-time members, former players who live for days like this and to our vocal supporters.
“One of the great things for me this year has been seeing players from that 2008 team still around the club, guys like Lachlan Walker, Coen Ladewig, David Lucas and Matty Brandon, who is in the third grade grand final.
“Playing in a grand final doesn’t come around that often. You really want to make the most of it.”
Just ask Ben Mowen.
The former Wallabies skipper has invigorated Easts from No.8 this season and is hellbent on his first premiership before retiring after a decade and a half in senior rugby.
Mowen’s mark was further recognised on Wednesday when he won the Alex Evans Medal as the competition’s outstanding performer in 2020.
Back in the 2008 grand final, it was wise veteran Andrew Walker adding composure and organisation from fullback in a tight 22-21 win over a 14-man Brothers side.
On Sunday against University of Queensland at Ballymore, Toua will have that role to pour in all he’s learnt playing with the Reds, Brumbies, Agen (France) and Honda Heat (Japan).
From fullback, he will mix quick-footed attack with slipping into first receiver to be a playmaker and acting as a cool general at the back. Maybe, there’ll be a left-footed torp like in 2008 too.
The shortened 10-game regular season, because of COVID-19, has really worked in Toua’s favour.
“I had two weeks in home quarantine when I returned from my Japanese season, had the toss-up of maybe going back and came to the answer that it was time to put a young family first without time away,” Toua said.
“This season has reinvigorated my passion for rugby.
“I’ve really enjoyed the shortened season and if not for that I might not even have been able to play.”
Linking with an IT company meant trips to Papua New Guinea, where it operates, but all were put on hold by the travel shutdown.
His daughters Matilda, 5, and Leila, 3, both now sing the Tigers’ team song. Son Sonny, 10 months, is still a little young for the choir.
“Matilda loves singing the ‘Tigerland’ song and kids just tell it to you straight like after we lost to Uni in the major semi,” Toua said with a laugh.
“She just said ‘Oh dad, maybe you’re not very good at rugby anymore’.”
Toua will do his best for Matilda on Sunday when 2013 premiership flanker Michael Gunn will be another experienced head for the side to count on.
Gunn, 25, took a year off last year and has played with relish in the backrow this season beside Mowen and standout Tom Milosevic.
Gunn won the Tony Shaw Medal as player of the match in the 2013 grand final victory which is some achievement considering he was just 18.
“Gunny has shown his quality this year. His rugby is rejuvenated and he’s the type of guy who is able to get a desperate turnover when needed,” Toua said.
“UQ taught us a lesson in finals footy in the semi and we’ve learnt about making smart decisions and starting better on Sunday.”
Five-eighth Jack Frampton has rebounded from the shoulder issue that forced him off in the preliminary final and has been picked to start.
For Uni, utility Kye Oates comes onto the bench after beating an ankle issue.
Easts have six teams into grand finals this week in a bumper achievement.
Easts: George Francis, Richie Asiata, Rhys van Nek, Mitch Schneider, Seru Uru, Tom Milosevic, Michael Gunn, Ben Mowen (c), Eli Pilz, Jack Frampton, Dylan Taikato-Simpson, Matt Smit, Landon Hayes, Shane Kennedy, Aidan Toua.
University of Queensland: Hamish Richardson, Josh Nasser, SJ Tamala, Fergus Lillicrap, Connor Vest, Conor Mitchell, Pat Morrey (c), Sam Wallis, Jordan Lenac, Scott Gale, Mac Grealy, James Wood, Con Foley, Sam Edwards, Jock Campbell. Reserves: Tom Mellor, Isaac Aedo Kailea, Alex Sa’aga, Richard Clift, Will Roach, Brad Twidale, TJ Siakisini, Kye Oates