Nemani Nadolo has a voracious appetite — you would too if you were a 21st Fijian.
Whether it is defenders or staggering amounts of meat, Nadolo tends to smoke things. In October he fired up the barbecue to slow-cook a feast for his Montpellier team-mates at Altrad Stadium.
‘I smoked two whole lambs,’ says Nadolo, who describes himself as ‘the big fella on the wing’.
Nemani Nadolo is a man with an enormous appetite both on and off the rugby pitch
No matter if it’s a defender or meat, Nadolo tends to smoke and demolish things
‘I had to juggle it with training. I took my kit (two enormous American-made grills) to the stadium and would train, then quickly rush up to get it burning, go to the gym, finish a set and go straight back upstairs. I had to feed 30 blokes. Maybe I should start charging — £10 a head!
‘One day I dream I will open a smoking truck. In the summer they have food markets here down by the coast — I would love to sell brisket and ribs. My wife makes some salad as decoration for the table — I don’t eat it! A few vegans won’t be happy, but you can’t impress them all, can you?’
So, a meat-head then? Not at all, Montpellier’s monster is a big friendly giant.
When walking through his home town from Place de la Comedie to Porte du Peyrou on his way to a coffee shop, a happy heckle makes Nadolo bashful. ‘Eh Nemani!’ comes the gleeful shout from a man whizzing past on a moped after spotting the hulking winger.
The 21st Fijian heads to Exeter this weekend to face his old Chiefs team-mates
Nadolo may appear like a monster on the rugby pitch but there is an art to his craft
Another less fanatical Frenchman sidles up and wonders if the 29-year-old Fijian plays basketball. A polite nod and a smile greets both wide-eyed gazers.
Football was the young Islander’s first game. It sounds unlikely but Nadolo played left wing until he was a 6ft 13-year-old. He supported Leeds United.
‘Mark Viduka was my hero,’ says Nadolo, who moved with his family to Brisbane at three months old when his dad joined the Queensland Reds.
‘Mum used to go shopping at the Salvation Army store. Once I found an old Leeds jersey, it was five bucks, which back then was a lot of money for my mum. She said, “If you like it I’ll get it for you”. I wore that for ever, but one day we played rugby and my mate ripped it. I was distraught. When I played for Exeter my second game was at Leeds. We drove past Elland Road — it felt like I was in heaven! This was where they play!’
The Montpellier winger was always destined to be a rugby star – but he grew up loving football
Unsurprisingly, Nadolo was always bigger than most. Today he’s 6ft 4in and weighs 21st 7lb.
Size did not always help. At 19 he was written off, despite scoring seven tries in five matches at the Junior World Cup for Australia.
‘Coaches said I was too big,’ he says. ‘I didn’t suit the mould of what they wanted back then. I was a big softie at school. If you poked me I would probably cry as a kid.’
When his parents divorced he was out of the house overnight. With his rugby dream dying he went to work.
‘I had many jobs,’ he explains. ‘I was a concreter, a real estate receptionist, even an asbestos remover for four months. I had two younger brothers, so I wanted to make sure they had the best. It did not become about what I wanted, it became about money.’
Nadolo sat down for an exclusive interview with Sportsmail’s Will Kelleher in Montpellier
The 29-year-old said he grew up supporting Leeds United and even owned a replica shirt
His nomadic rugby life echoes that. At Bourgoin they did not pay him. A registration issue meant the Chiefs were docked Premiership points and later Nadolo was charged with drink-driving.
His contract was cancelled by mutual consent after a matter of months. ‘I was young, immature and a bit stupid,’ he reflects.
Next Japan, and the Green Rockets, before a belated break at New Zealand’s Crusaders. Twenty-seven tries in 40 Super Rugby games later, and the big man had found his feet.
Now back in France, Nadolo is content having provided a life for his family. He is one of the most devastating talents around but it still shocks him that Rugby World voted him the 34th best player in the world this month — three places above Sonny Bill Williams.
At 19 he was written off, despite scoring seven tries in five matches at the Junior World Cup
‘Coaches said I was too big,’ he says. ‘I didn’t suit the mould of what they wanted back then’
‘Stop it,’ he gasps. ‘I didn’t know that. I might as well beat him at something! I wouldn’t want to fight him in the boxing ring!’
In the European Cup this season he has beaten 29 defenders in four games. Lion Tommy Seymour was flipped 180 degrees in the last round, and Saturday’s opposite number, Exeter’s Olly Woodburn, is two inches shorter and 6st 10lb lighter. Nadolo will be out to create a storm at Sandy Park.
But how does this affable man perform a hulk-like transformation? ‘People always said I could never do anything, or wasn’t good enough,’ he says. ‘I use it as fuel.’
His appetite is undiminished.
Nadolo made four appearances for Exeter during a troublesome time for him seven years ago