Sia Soliola gave everything he had to the game of rugby league, the Canberra Raiders, and the community that surrounded those two groups. He did so with a humble but powerful heart that inspired all that were privileged enough to witness. He’s earned his rest.
It’s hard to talk about Sia without feeling inspired. 16 odd seasons playing rugby league at the top level. Grand finals, internationals, playing almost every position outside the spine. The man did it all on the field. He was an enforcer, a leader, and a problem solver. When there was a problem, Sia was put on it. He had a litany of highlights, some big hits, some brilliantly powerful and dynamic runs, but in a football sense I’ll always remember him as the ultimate teammate – someone who adjusted their game to help everyone else, rather than what they needed.
He played for other teams, but from the moment he came to Canberra he seemed to be the soul of the Stuart regime. It was transformational. He became the touchstone for the team and the community: the hero we needed. He seemed like such a figure of respect for the players, that person that you never want to disappoint. The person that rarely speaks, but when he does, the whole team listens. No better is this evidenced than in the unending tributes to him on social media from teammates past and present. He was so central to my idea of how the team functioned. When he took the drumsticks and began banging the drum for the viking clap after victories at the back end of 2019, it just felt right. Him sticking around post career to help out on player welfare is even more perfect.
Even more than his on-field leadership, the way he interacted with the community was stirring. As someone who tends to fumble from one challenge to the next, I’ve never understood how he found the time or the energy to help others with such passion. But he did find the time and the energy, and more importantly the empathy to get involved. To help, and strive, to make his community better. It was what we all aspire to in our quietest moments. Sia didn’t just talk about it. Sia did it. Like his on-field attitude, he led with action. Menslink CEO Martin Fisk tells a story of Sia sticking around until 1am packing up chairs after a big event in 2016. Sia wasn’t asked to help. There was no shine in him doing the menial tasks. But like he did on the footy field, Sia made sure the little things got done, even if no one noticed.
Sia has been so important to us because he has been the rugby league player we all wanted to exist. More than just a footy player, he cared for his family, his community, and anyone that came into his path. What he did is well documented, from raising money for injured ex-teammates, to raising awareness for domestic violence support, to turning up at his local soup kitchen on cold Canberra mornings to make sure less fortunate than him got treated with the dignity they deserve. These things weren’t for the cameras, but because Sia is human, and he’s always seemed to see the humanity in others. Sometimes when we get caught up in our own business we can forget to care about the person standing next to us, what shit they’d been through to get to the same place as us. It seemed like Sia never forgot, and always made sure that every person he interacted with felt valued, understood, and seen.
I personally got to experience this when Sia took the time in the lead up to the Warriors game earlier to send me a message of goodwill on the birth of my second child (shouts to Tim Gore and AJ Mithen for organising). Here he was, minutes away from running his ageing body into battle again, and he was recording a quick video for a fan just to say congratulations. I can barely eat a sandwich when I get nervous. This man was taking the time to reach out to people.
It’s always sad when our favourites walk away, and if there’s a hint of regret here it’s that we couldn’t give Sia the premiership he so richly deserves. A moment in the sun, to be noticed and appreciated rather than toiling away without accolade. You want the good guys to win. Sia somehow lost grand finals with Canberra and St Helens, and that makes me sadder than it probably does Sia. He seems like the kind of guy that appreciated the journey, the growth, and the camaraderie he shared with good people.
Plato reckoned perfection only exists in the realm of the hypothetical – essentially we come up with an idea and everyone tries to emulate. Maybe Sia wasn’t perfect, but I can tell you this much. Every rugby league player should try to emulate him, because if he wasn’t perfect, he was about as close as you’re going to get. And for that we’ll always be grateful.