Jamayne Isaako with his dad Taai
Jamayne Isaako with his dad Taai

Virus’ heartbreaking impact on Broncos star

Brisbane fullback Jamayne Isaako is the NRL's human face of the coronavirus pandemic which has rocked the globe.

When the Broncos run out in on Friday night's crowdless clash against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium, spare a thought for Isaako, who is showing admirable resilience amid a harrowing private battle involving his father Taai.

Last June, Isaako fielded a phone call he never wished to receive. It was his sister in New Zealand. Their father Taai had been diagnosed with nose cancer. He was given just weeks to live.

Twelve months on, Taai is fighting on, hanging tough, but for Isaako - who plays his 50th NRL game against the Rabbitohs - his father's cancer ordeal is a constant concern.


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The problem now is the type of mercy dash Isaako made to New Zealand last year is no longer possible, with the COVID-19 crisis placing restrictions on overseas travel, leaving the Broncos fullback in limbo and unsure when he will see his ailing father again.

"It's a really tough time for Jamayne," said his manager Jim Banaghan.

"He is not looking for sympathy, but his family situation has weighed down very hard on him.

"Jamayne is just doing the best he can in a really emotional time for his family.

"His father has been sick for some time and he has been exceptionally supportive of Jamayne's career. They have a very close father-son relationship and when he can, Jamayne slips back to Christchurch to see his old man.

"With the coronavirus issue, it's a real challenge for Jamayne to get back to New Zealand to see his father. If he goes now, he is stuck over there with the 14-day self-isolation rule and until the season is stopped or postponed, it's very tough for Jamayne to get home.

"In the meantime, he is doing everything he can to make his father proud … and his father is doing everything he can to support his son."



Last year, Isaako detailed his father's cancer battle, and the strain it placed on him.

"When I heard about dad's diagnosis, I bawled my eyes out," he said.

"The cancer started in his nose and it has now spread to his brain and everywhere in his body.

"I've never lost anyone this close, so this is huge for me.

"He's definitely inspiring me. I was planning on staying (in New Zealand), but he sat me down and said he wanted me to come back to Australia. He motivates me to keep training and playing well."

There's little doubt Taai, 50, is drawing strength from his son, who underlined his mental fortitude with an outstanding display in Brisbane's 28-21 Round 1 derby defeat of the Cowboys last week.

Isaako had every right to be a broken man after a below-par pre-season saw him axed as fullback in favour of Jack Bird.

But when Bird snapped his ACL just 48 hours before the Cowboys clash, the door of opportunity swung open for Isaako, who responded with one of the best games of his 49-match NRL career in Townsville.


It’s a hugely testing time for this young man. Photo: Matt Taylor.
It’s a hugely testing time for this young man. Photo: Matt Taylor.


The 23-year-old terrorised the Cowboys, amassing 141 metres, 15 runs, five tackle busts and a try in a classy backfield display. Like his dad, Isaako has been down for the count, but is fighting his way back.

"When you are battling for a spot and you don't get picked I think the motivation is to work harder and push for a spot," Isaako said.

"It sucks personally when you don't get picked in the starting line-up but I knew I had a job to do.

"I was happy for Jack when he got named at fullback because I know how hard he has worked in pre-season, but when 'Birdy' went down I was the back-up on the bench and I had a job to do for the team.

"I went out there and practised what I did over the pre-season. I enjoy playing fullback, so it was nothing new for me."

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold lauded Isaako's attitude.

"When you get your turn in the jersey it's (about) what you do," he said.

"We saw that with Jamayne last week. It was heartbreaking for us to lose Jack Bird but Jamayne took his opportunity, I'm really pleased for him."

Originally published as Jamayne Isaako on his father's cancer battle and coronavirus fears

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