Ask Tyrone May the one player he was in awe of as a kid growing up and he doesn’t hesitate one bit.
“Anthony Minichiello was one of my idols growing up,” May said.
So as he soldiered through a pre-season nursing a knee not long out of surgery, the last thing May expected to be doing was picking the brain of his idol in far north Queensland of all places.
It came on the encouragement of Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo, who was in charge of Italy during last year’s World Cup.
“He gave me a ring and said, ‘What are you doing? I can tell you’re pretty bored’,” May said. “He said, ‘If you can fly up to Cairns, I’ve got some accommodation for you and you can help out’. I was doing some video and just helping out.
“I was a bit star struck there. I didn’t realise how smart [Minichiello] was. He was the defensive coach and he had them all on [point]. He was very efficient and he’s retired, but he still had the best body in the whole Italy team.
Cairns might have been an unusual spot for helping bridge the east-west divide between the Roosters and Panthers, but in Minichiello and the man he helped recruit to the Roosters, James Tedesco, May has a couple of driving forces behind his NRL return.
The 21-year-old, who was a revelation in the halves alongside Nathan Cleary towards the back end of last season, also got an up close and personal peep at how NSW No.1 Tedesco refines his game.
May might never slot into the fullback role at NRL level, but he had a pretty good mentor in any case.
“Teddy kind of took me under his wing and was showing me the ropes,” May said. “He’s a good bloke and I got along well with him actually. I played against him once and I don’t think he likes to get tackled because he fights to the death.”
Not only has May had to grapple with his first serious long-term injury over summer, suffered in the Panthers’ finals loss to the Broncos, but he’s also watched James Maloney waltz into Penrith to take over the vacant No.6.
Yet it’s the last thing he’s worried about as May absorbs as much as he can from the Australian and NSW five-eighth.
“He’s a top bloke,” May said. “The way he looks at footy is a bit different to others. He’s a footballer and not very robotic, he knows how to play football and that’s what you want in a player. He just knows what to do and when to do it. He’s just a top competitor.
“He’s out there ripping in and even in video sessions he thinks he likes a coach. I know I’m going to have start playing good footy, but there’s no rush to play. Hopefully I can jag a few games in the NRL [this year].
“I’m a bit young and hopefully I’ve got heaps of years in front of me, so I’ll worry about getting the knee right and going from there.”
May is on the brink of graduating to long-distance running within the next fortnight as he eyes a return to action in April.