He’s been labelled the game’s biggest bully but Melbourne’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona insists he’s more a gentle giant than giant grub.
Ahead of their sudden-death NRL final against Canberra at AAMI Park on Saturday, Asofa-Solomona says away from the field he’s very different to the Storm hit-man who has drawn so much ire of late.
The Kiwi hulk, who stands 200cm and weighs 115kg, has been called a thug for some cheap shot antics, most notably dropping his elbow into the head of his rivals as he brought them to ground.
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He has been charged five times this season by the match review committee but escaped each time with a fine, Storm coach Craig Bellamy defending him saying he’d become a “punching bag” due to media scrutiny.
Asofa-Solomona refers to it as “tackles gone wrong” and it wasn’t his intention to maim anyone.
But it was his intention to be aggressive to help put Melbourne on the front foot.
“My job on the field is pretty simple – it’s to run hard, tackle hard and to be aggressive, to bring that physical presence and that’s what I try to bring in every game,” the 26-year-old told AAP.
“I’m not going to shy away from it, I’m not going to go away from it because that’s just who I am as a player.
“But if you really got to know me off the field as a person, if you sat down with me one on one and just really got to know me, you’d get to know the real Nelson who is pretty much the opposite of what you see on the field.”
He knows his on-field persona will come with personal attacks but they bounce off him like many a would-be tackler.
“It doesn’t really affect me – all I care about is the people around me and how it affects them,” Asofa-Solomona said.
“As long as I get around them and make sure they know that I’m OK, it doesn’t affect me at all.
The “real” Asofa-Solomona is a family man, whose first priority is his mum Ailini following the death of his dad Vasa in January.
He had to give up his dogs Flower, Lulu and dachshund duo Spencer and Henry when the Storm were forced interstate by COVID and usually spends his downtime with friends.
Saying he’s his own man who doesn’t look up to anyone, Asofa-Solomona doesn’t always conform, starting the pre-season training by himself after refusing to get vaccinated.
But he’s otherwise pretty low-key.
“I’m a pretty chill person, I like to just chill the lads, have a bit of kava and just have a genuine chat about sort of stuff outside of footy,” said the New Zealand international.
“And I’m a family man, I love to be around my family and support my mum, now that my dad’s not here.
“That’s my main thing outside of footy, it’s just looking after my mum and making sure she’s OK and enjoying the rest of her life.”
Signed by the Storm as a 15-year-old in Wellington from under the nose of rugby union, Asofa-Solomona has played 163 games for Melbourne since making his debut in 2015.
All of those games have been alongside the Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny, and Felise Kaufusi with the veteran trio all departing for the Dolphins at season’s end.
Asofa-Solomona shed a tear when his best mate Suliasi Vunivalu switched from the Storm to rugby union and said he’d likely do the same when it’s time to farewell more teammates, in particular his captain Jesse.
“An era is coming to an end and it’s started to get bit emotional,” he said.
“I was a shy young kid coming into first grade but Jess understood, being from New Zealand and being a young kid, and I might not have been here if it wasn’t for people like him.
“We had a couple of days off to rest before this game and have a real think about what we want to do for the rest of the year before we started training.
“We’re looking to have a good finals series and everyone’s goal is to go to grand final and win it.
“We’re taking it game by game but we don’t want the journey to end”.