Sitaleki Akauola admits leaving Salford for Toulouse was a tough decision to make, but the New Zealand-born forward has always been about stepping out of his comfort zone during his career.
The 30-year-old left home as a youngster to join Wests Tigers, where he would represent their NYC team before making his NRL debut in 2013.
His career Down Under also saw him enjoy a two-year spell with Penrith before moving to the other side of the world with Warrington in Super League.
Akauola later joined Salford ahead of the 2022 season, and still had a year remaining on his contract.
However, the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone once more attracted him to Toulouse, making the move with his wife and two young boys having signed a two-year deal with the Championship side.
Sitaleki Akauola on leaving Salford for Toulouse
“Toulouse showed some interest and for me, it was a different challenge,” Akauola told Love Rugby League.
“Having just been relegated, it was that challenge of playing for promotion and creating more history.
“It’s a great opportunity for my family and I and to get out of our comfort zones.
“For me, it’s been a challenge since I left New Zealand. Leaving the nest back home – coming from a big family – was tough.
“I left New Zealand and then created a little home in Australia and had my family move over there. Then I left there again, so I didn’t just leave them once, but twice.
“I had to step out of that comfort zone again and England became a home and I met my wife there and have since had two boys.
“I still had one more year at Salford and we left on good terms. Salford is a club I’ll always be grateful for.
“I absolutely loved it at Salford. We had our ups and downs, but it’s not how the plane takes off, it’s how it lands I guess.
“It was great to be a part of their rise. The coaching staff, the fans; they were all great. It was a really good club and is in really good hands under Paul Rowley and Kurt Haggerty.”
“We both agreed to taking that leap of faith” – Sitaleki Akauola
Moving your family to another country isn’t a decision made overnight, and one Akauola and his partner had to consider following a few weeks break after the 2022 season.
“My wife and I went back and forth,” he continued. “I think we were grateful to have that break at the back end of last year with a few weeks off.
“As much as we would have loved to stay at Salford – a great club – and have her parents around and help with the kids and stuff, we both agreed to taking that leap of faith.”
2023 goals with Toulouse
Now settling into life in Toulouse, Akauola admits he had a rollercoaster start after spending a whole day trying to find nappies without speaking a word of French.
He now of course knows the translation – “couche” – and has set his own personal goals on and off the field with Toulouse.
“One of my goals is to have a French conversation at the end of the year,” he said.
“Speaking French would be good. We’ll be having French lessons at the end of the month and in the meantime we have good neighbours upstairs and the club staff help us out.
“We have some great neighbours here that we try and do back and forth with. We have a little whiteboard downstairs where neighbours write things in French and we have to translate it and practise saying it.”
And on the field, promotion is on everyone’s mind having achieved the feat in 2021.
“I want to help in any way I can in regards to making Super League next year,” he added.
“Our main focus this year is doing what we can do to the best of our ability, to perform week in, week out and create that bond and togetherness within the team.”