WATCH: Tyla Hepi keen to make his own name at Castleford Tigers
ASK Castleford Tigers’ new signing Tyla Hepi about his dad also playing for the club and there is a look of resignation on his face.
It was 1999 and again in 2001 that Brad Hepi, a particularly robust Aucklander, featured at Wheldon Road having originally carved out his reputation with Carlisle, Workington and Hull FC.
His son, a powerful prop hoping to make his own mark in Super League after joining from Toulouse Olympique, said: “Everyone asks about my dad.
“But I didn’t grow up with my dad. I didn’t watch him play. I don’t know anything about him footy-wise from then.
“All I know is he played here – and apparently he took a few heads off now and then!”
Hepi, 26, explained: “I grew up with my mum in Auckland and my grandparents – my dad’s parents – were pretty predominant in my life.
“My mum’s actually from Carlisle but me and my twin sister were born and raised in New Zealand. If my dad ever had enough money to fly us over here, or the family could chip in to get us to visit, they would.
“I do remember one trip over when I went to watch him at Cas.
“I can’t really remember the game but I do remember the winger who played there – Richard Gay – and getting in the car with him and my dad.
“They gave me a Cas top and I came to see them training and then the game the following week before flying home.”
With such childhood travelling – he spent a year in Hull when he was around the age of 11 – it is perhaps no surprise Hepi has taken his own circuitous route to get back into Super League.
He played briefly for Hull KR in 2012 and 2013 but struggled to establish himself and actually ended up briefly playing alongside his father who was then coach of Gloucestershire All Golds.
Hepi, who has established himself as one of the Championship’s best forwards during the last four years in France, conceded he thought his chance at the elite level may have gone.
However, Castleford coach Daryl Powell believes he has the ability to prove his worth with the new season set to get underway in just three weeks’ time.
Hepi said: “I finished high school in New Zealand and my dad said he knew someone at Hull KR and they’d be willing to give me a full-time two year deal.
“That’s where I started but a few decisions along the way I ended up going to Australia and playing lower level so I never thought I’d end up back here.
“At one point, I was training with New Zealand Warriors’ reserve grade side and slogging at a friend’s furniture factory.
“Stacey Jones was the coach at the time and I had a trial lined up there but then Toulouse offered me a full-time deal.
“I knew Stacey well and he understood when I said I had to go for it. Sylvain Houles said he’d a project at Toulouse with the goal being Super League and I’ve loved it there.
“I’ve just tried to play the game as hard and as good as I can and it’s led me back here.
“Now I need to keep working hard. When I think about it I never thought I’d get back. It was just the last couple of years I thought I was doing all right.
“I’m just grateful and blessed to be here at Cas and be a part of this club. I’m looking forward to the start of the season.”
Hepi will have a year to demonstrate he can make the step up with another year on his contract in the club’s favour.
And will his dad be watching his progress at Wheldon Road?
“He’s just moved back to New Zealand...” said Hepi.
“My mum’s actually lived most of her life there and my dad’s lived most of his life here which is pretty crazy when you think about it.
“But they’re both back in New Zealand now.”