Tough forward John Palavi says Norths Devils have a sense of excitement as the new-look squad prepares for its first season under coach Rohan Smith.
Palavi and Smith have reunited at Bishop Park – the pair first worked together at the New Zealand Warriors when Smith was on the coaching staff and Palavi was among the club’s brightest stars.
“When I was first appointed to Norths, one of the first things I did was make sure that we kept JP here,” Smith said.
“I was really pleased to hear that he had moved to the Devils last year. JP is the type of player that every club needs – he has very good character, he encourages his teammates to get better and he is a leader.”
Palavi showed Devils supporters those traits last year as he became a key player in a squad that showed glimpses of brilliance with wins away from home against Intrust Super Cup finalists PNG Hunters and Sunshine Coast Falcons.
That followed a career that included NRL appearances with the Warriors, leading to Palavi being named in Tonga’s extended squad for the 2017 World Cup qualifiers. He had a professional stint in France before the Devils came knocking early last year.
Palavi, 25, has enjoyed the pre-season under Smith and has noticed a spring in the step of the 2017 Devils squad members.
“The pre-season has been really good – there is an exciting feeling around the club because we’ve brought together a squad that has plenty of strengths,” Palavi said.
“The guys from last season have worked in well with the new guys and Rohan has brought everyone together well. That’s one of his skills as a coach.”
At 187cm and 105kg, Palavi adds more bulk to a Devils pack that has muscled up in the off-season.
“JP is a very versatile forward – he can play most positions but he probably excels in the backrow,” Smith said.
“He’s played NRL before and he still has NRL potential. I’m convinced that JP has the talent to play that level again and to play it well.
“We’ve got plenty of combinations to work out during our three trial matches next month, starting with Wynnum on February 10.”
Palavi has had a busy off-season, with his partner Jerreka giving birth to their first child – a daughter called Cleo – on February 9.
“That was an amazing experience and it’s been a joy to have Cleo in our lives,” Palavi said. “She’s had a few minor complications but we’re on top of that now and we’re loving watching her grow.”
Palavi has almost finished his first year of a carpentry apprenticeship with Force Interiors and he said the discipline of his work had helped to improve his football.