Former Rooster Peni Tagive gets an American Football college scholarship — and what this might mean for rugby league

Source: Daily Telegraph.

Source: Daily Telegraph.

Former five-game Rooster Peni Tagive has secured an athletic scholarship with American university Baylor to play Division I NCAA College Football.

No-one saw that coming, did they?

According to an article in the Waco Tribune:

Former Australian rugby [league] player Peni Tagive is coming to Baylor on a football scholarship.

Tagive retired from rugby last year to pursue a football career. He played Australian rugby [league] for the West Tigers in 2008-09, the St. George/Illawarra Dragons in 2010-11, and the Sydney Roosters in 2012.

The 24-year-old Tagive, who has never played American football, is expected to enroll at Baylor in July and is projected to play linebacker.


The athletic scholarship will provide the 6’4″, 99kg Tagive — who as the article mentioned has never played American football — a minimum of one year of free college tuition and the opportunity to develop his game with an eye towards entering the NFL draft after a season, or a further season at college.

Tagive originally retired at the end of last year following a NSW Cup Grand Final win with the Newtown Jets to “concentrate on his studies” according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, and I guess this is one way to do it.

According to a blog on US News, there are roughly one million kids playing American football in high school but only around 19,500 college football scholarships available in a given year. For Tagive to score a scholarship out of a pool of one million players, having never played the game, is a huge accomplishment for a player who played just 18 games in the NRL for six tries. To win a scholarship with a Division I team — the highest level of competition in college football — is incredible.

Robert Griffin III. Source: MSNBC

The Baylor Bears, based in Waco, Texas, finished 7-5 in 2012 and won the Holiday Bowl for good measure. What that means is anyone’s guess, but the college recently graduated Heisman Trophy winner (given to the best player in college football) Robert Griffin III, known as RGIII, who was later drafted second overall in the 2012 NFL draft before going on to become the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In short: this is a serious college football program which is taking a massive chance on an athletic specimen who has never played the game before, meaning they see something in the former fringe first-grade winger.

But the interesting point to take out of this is the former winger is projected as a linebacker, a defensive position. For those unfamiliar with the American game, teams are split into attack and defence i.e. once the team gets the ball, the defence comes off and the attack takes over.

So the strengths that Tagive was seen to provide in the NRL — size under the ball, tackle busts and speed — will not necessarily be utilised if the projections are correct.

This is a big test case for rugby league as players such as Tagive have the speed, size and skill to succeed in the American game, and their weaknesses are effectively halved as they only have to play and focus on one side of the ball.

Akuila Uate. Source: ABC.

Think of Akuila Uate: A pure athlete, impossible to tackle at pace and someone who possesses more speed than Ben Cousins at Schoolies. His biggest weakness is his defence: he comes in too often, struggles to read the play on occasion and isn’t too safe under the high ball.

But what if you took the need to defend away and just let the dude run?

That’s what American football could potentially provide. Uate would not have to defend a lick — just run like he’s Forrest Gump out there before coming out to let the defence take care of all the heavy lifting.

If these were the rules in Origin — attack and defence take turns — Uate would be the first winger picked.

But besides all that, the money on offer in the NFL, at the minimum, is greater than anything a typical NRL player, even the superstars, could possibly fathom. As an example, RGIII’s teammate at the Washington Redskins, former Collingwood Magpie Sav Rocca, recently re-signed with the Redskins to a two-year deal worth US$2.24 million.

Sav Rocca in “action”. Source: Zimbio.

You know what Rocca’s role is? He comes in on the fourth down (effectively the fifth tackle), kicks the ball downfield and then he comes off. That’s it.

He is not a running back or linebacker, players who can command US$100 million towards the top-end of the scale, as Adrian Peterson does for the Minnesota Vikings (seven years, US$100 million).

If the Tagive experiment is a success, we could see many of those young players on the cusp of first grade lost to the game before they have a chance to blossom into the player many know someone like a Uate could become.

Best of luck to Tagive, a player who showed promise in the NRL but never really got the opportunity to cement a spot in first grade. And for rugby league fans, this is a space we should watch with keen interest, as there could be more of the same in the future.

And for our American friends reading this and curious as to what Tagive can do in attack, check this video out:


15 responses to “Former Rooster Peni Tagive gets an American Football college scholarship — and what this might mean for rugby league

  1. Welcome Tagive! Glad to have you with our Bears and look forward to you laying some hits in our brand new, $250,000,000 stadium on the Brazos river! Don’t worry, we have taken people who’ve never played American football and sent them to the NFL before. Sic Em, Bears!


    • $250m Stadium??? Seriously?

      Man there is some big money in American college sports — wow.

      Good luck with Peni, he’s a good kid who showed some real promise in the NRL. He has size and speed, and we’ll be watching with interest over here.


      • TV contracts with the sports leagues have created a windfall financially for the major sports. TV is where most of the revenu comes from. The downside, is that everyone ups the ante and everything starts to get out of hand eventually. Tickets, food, parking. I don’t even bother going to pro football (american) games anymore. Its too expensive.


        • Its a common problem I have found over there. I went to an NBA game last year when in the States and the tickets to Knicks Wizards were $130 a pop. Outrageous. General admission to a professional rugby league game here, tickets on halfway mind you, are $35 and it goes down from there. I hope that doesn’t change. In Australia, I believe the TV contracts are actually helping keep the prices DOWN because the teams are sustainable now because of the aTV rights deals. When the tickets I believe become expensive over in the States is due to the contracts for players. There arent many NRL players earning a million here.


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  3. American college sports is an enormous money-maker. Our biggest sports stadiums in terms of capacity (outside of auto-racing tracks in NASCAR and the Dallas Cowboys stadium) are college football stadiums.

    I’ve been watching rugby more often lately because my brother plays for his college team here in Washington, D.C. Best of luck to Tagive.


    • Those stadiums are just incredible….

      You know the wing position in rugby then? That’s Peni’s old spot. I hope he makes the transition, a great kid and very humble.


  4. This is an interesting piece. I think Tagive would need to spend at least two years in the American college game to acclimate not only to a new sport, but an entirely different position. This development would be essential for him to have any chance of going pro. It would make more sense if he played on the offensive side of the ball.


    • That would seem the likely scenario — to be fair I’m a dunce with American Football — but it seems to nuanced for him to make an immediate splash, especially in defence. What he has going for him is the hunger for it, and he’s a good young man. But at least two years makes sense. Plus he’d get to experience two years of American college life.

      The choice of him as a defensive player to me is also a strange one, as wingers in rugby league generally live by their attack and his strengths in our game were certainly attack-oriented. But I guess his size lends itself to defence in American football? I’m hearing he’d have to gain some size to really make a fist of the new role.


      • I agree with you, the choice for his switch to defense is odd. I have thought about this more though – Baylor is fantastic on offense. He I would assume he would be a running back and we are pretty set there right now. Baylor’s defense needs a lot of help, so I bet the coaching staff is going to try him there first and if he sticks, he stays. Otherwise, he’d play RB or another offensive position and hopefully get playing time in a couple years.


        • Further to an earlier reply to a comment, scroll to around the 3 minute mark of the embedded highlights package and watch from there. This is when he played top flight football for the Roosters and you can see what he is capable of on punt returns and running the ball. It’s a shame he left the NRL because he had some ability.


  5. I agree with you the change to defense raises an eyebrow. However, the more I think about it I imagine Baylor’s approach is to put him on D and see if he can stick. The defense needs a lot of help, a lot. If he does not stick on D, they may move him to RB to add depth there as this would be a bit more natural for him. That may depend on if the starter Seastrunk goes pro after this year, which is possible if he has a very good season. Otherwise, Tagive would not see any time at RB until 2014-2015


    • From the little I knkw about the game, I believe he could make a decent fullback in American football. Rugby league players are superb runners with ball in hand, and one of Tagive’s main roles for the Roosters when heplayed was kick/punt returns. In the broken field aspect of the game he could really excel. He has great speed and a terrific fend off with the right arm.


  6. Something else of note, Baylor has two more players from Australia either on its roster, or in the process of coming over. Not former rugby players, but from Australia nonetheless.


    • Really? What are their names and positions? It’s interesting because the sport is largely a curiosity here outside of the superbowl, but if more young men start finding the success these kids have — and granted its college football — it will be very interesting to see if the sport truly gains a stronger foothold in Australia.


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