FIERY Knights centre Timana Tahu will maintain the rage.
But the 31-year-old dual international has made a conscious effort to keep a cooler head after his most recent on-field brain explosion led to his children copping a hard time at school.
Speaking at length for the first time since that incident – when he lashed out with his knee at Dragons back-rower Matt Prior in the season-opener, the 2001 premiership winner:
¦ dismissed critics who say he has ‘‘mental problems’’;
¦ said he had not abandoned hope of returning to the Origin arena but it was not a priority;
¦ wants to be more consistent after a mediocre start to his second stint with the club; and
¦ was buoyed by the support of Knights fans who had welcomed him back despite the controversial incidents that have occurred during his career.
The most recent of those was his reaction to Prior’s tackle, which earned him a one-game ban.
‘‘People didn’t see it, but I got hit in the face and he put his thumb into my eye and I retaliated from that ... ,’’ Tahu said yesterday.
‘‘Players might niggle me and, for me, it’s still a learning curve, and I’ve got to take it on the chin sometimes and not explode.
‘‘But if you see in the past five or six years – since I’ve been playing, really – I’ve always been an aggressive player.
‘‘I don’t know why people say that my mind’s in another place or I’ve got mental problems – I don’t know why they say that – because my head is in the right place.’’
Tahu said his 13-year-old daughter Leketa, 10-year-old son Tommy and nine-year-old daughter Larni-Ann had endured taunts at school since the incident.
‘‘My kids were the ones that copped it, and that’s what made me pull my head in,’’ he said.
‘‘My daughter goes to high school, and I’ve got two little ones in primary school.
‘‘I think what gets talked at the dinner table, kids eavesdrop on their parents and what they say, they bring it to school, and my kids pay for it, so that’s what woke me up a little bit.
‘‘Now the decisions I make on the field have got to be a lot better than what they have been in the past, because ... if I do something stupid, my family cops it.
‘‘That was probably the hardest part for me, and that’s why I went to Wayne and apologised to him. He said that’s not my go ... and he knows I’m not an idiot, and we just moved on from it.’’
That was Tahu’s first game at Hunter Stadium since he incurred a four-game suspension for a high tackle on now teammate James McManus in June 2010 while playing for the Eels.
The tackle on McManus came two weeks after Tahu walked out of NSW camp amid a racial furore with his former Knights captain Andrew Johns.
‘‘Because it was Newcastle at that time, there was a lot of spotlight on that game, but you could have put me on against Cronulla, Wests Tigers, Melbourne, I would have played the same way,’’ he said.
Newcastle’s game against Parramatta at Hunter Stadium on Sunday will be Tahu’s 102nd for the Knights and his first against the Eels since he left at the end of 2010. He played seven games for Penrith last year but none against Parramatta.
‘‘When you go back to your home team, where you grew up watching and wanting to be a part of ... you play that extra 15 or 20 per cent better than you would at another club,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s what it is for me, coming back home, because you’re playing in front of your family and your friends, and putting on a red and blue jersey means a lot more than the past club jumpers I’ve played in ... I feel happy and blessed that I got a chance to come back to my home colours and finish my career.’’
Tahu said he felt comforted by the response of fans since his return.
‘‘Newcastle fans, there’s none better, and they stick with you week in, week out,’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve got to walk around the streets, go shopping, take your kids out, and the occasional person sings out and says, ‘Welcome back’, which makes you feel better. You walk around with your head up high and it’s awesome.’’
Tahu had planned a holiday during the team’s six-day break in the bye weekend leading up to Origin I in Melbourne on May 23, but Bennett talked him out of it.
He has not spoken to NSW coach Ricky Stuart about his selection prospects, and his form so far is unlikely to earn him a recall even if he has been forgiven for walking out on the Blues two years ago, but he has not booked a holiday – just in case.
‘‘The main thing is to be a team player here, fit into Wayne’s structure and get on board with what he talks about ... so that’s what I’m doing,’’ he said.