Born in the ACT, Richard Villasanti or "Villa the Gorilla" as he was affectionatelyknown, enjoyed a First Grade career spanning 8 season in which he played 116 games for 4 clubs (6 with Balmain Tigers in 1999, 7 for Wests Tigers in 2000, 96 for NZ Warriors 2001-06 and 7 for Cronulla Sharks in 2006). Richard also played 1 international for Australia and in doing so became the first Warriors player to represent the Kangaroos.
Richard was a Junior Kiwi and was also selected for the wider Tonga squad for the 2000 World Cup but did not play in the tournament.
Today the NZ Warriors Faither Group have been lucky enough to catch up with Richard, giving us the chance to ask a few questions to learn a little more about one of the best enforcers the Warriors have been lucky enough to have in their squad.
Faithers: Where did it all begin for you as a rugby league player?
Richard: Under 10s'. Tuggeranong Buffaloes, Canberra
Faithers: If Rugby League didn't work out, where do you think your career and life path would have taken you?
Richard: I lived and breathed football from a very young age and didn't see anything else as a real option but I have a love for all sports so I imagine it would be somewhere in the sporting sector.
Faithers: What do you think about the nickname "Villa the Gorilla"? And who was the person to originally hand you that nickname?
Richard: I love the nick name! I don't where it originated but it came in the '03 season when we were on a roll.
Faithers: How much of the game do you recall after the "Freddy Incident" in the 2002 Grand Final?
Richard: To be quite honest I don't remember much of the game at all. One of the few things I do remember though was looking at the sky from flat on my back after a few of the Roosters boys whacked me hahaha. But in regards to the Freddy incident, I don't remember anything of it and of course the hooter sounding for full time.
Faithers: I recall an interview with you a few years back where you mentioned that you were still yet to watch a replay of the game. Have you managed to bring yourself around to watching it or is it a game that you have no plans to ever revisit?
Richard: That quote still stands. Possibly in the future when my daughters are grown up and start asking questions I might sit down and go for a trip down memory lane with them.
Faithers: You enjoyed what was arguably one of the more successful periods in Warriors history where the club managed to reach the play offs 3 years straight. Where do you think the Warriors are going wrong in more recent times? And do you think they are close to getting it right?
Richard: Yes, we did enjoy a purple patch there for a few years but I think the difference was to now, is that in 01, 02 and 03 our squad was unique in the fact that we had veteran players come from other clubs (Campo, Ivan, Tooks, Doc, Rubes, Morgan and Pricey) that were successful. Those guys brought experience as well as that hard nosed competitiveness and the no-nonsense attitude to the club. That mixed in with Polynesian home grown talent that taught us young guys to compete at the level required for the NRL.
Faithers: Quite often you hear about the supposed "bro culture" within the Warriors, is it something you noticed during your time with the club?
Richard: No, not at all. We all loved a joke and a prank but when it was game time it was game on.
Faithers: Of the clubs you have played for, who have been the best fans and why?
Richard: Definately the Warriors fans HAHAHAHA. The most passionate I've ever seen!!!
Faithers: Can you share how you felt about the 2002 Grand Final half time recording that Daniel Anderson played? And can you let us in on what was actually being played back to the team?
Richard: Yeah it's a bit of a blur and I missed the recording as I was getting treatment at the time.
Faithers: What did Daniel Anderson do to make that team click during the golden 2001-2003 days. As I feel things are over complicated these days and I remember Anderson saying many times he would just keep things real simple.
Richard: As previously mentioned, we had a great mixture of youth, talent, skill, experience and fearlessness which combined with Daniels coaching methods we played an attractive and exciting brand of football, while giving the coach and our fans heart palpitations lol. And the thing that we all understood is that whatever position you were picked in you knew your role within the team and if you did your role we were successful more often than not.
Faithers: Where do you think Stacey rates among the great halves of all time?
Richard: Stace was like a chess player. He could see an outcome 3 plays before it happened, his vision and anticipation was second to none. In my eyes one of the greatest players that I played with and he scored one of the best individual grand final tries (if not the best) that you are ever likely to see.
Faithers: How did you get the nickname Lochness?
Richard: Hahahahah Because the Lochness is only heard of and never seen. A bit like me when it came to Tony Kemps fitness sessions hahaha
Faithers: What was better, playing in a Grand Final or playing for Australia?
Richard: Playing for Australia was a great honour and privilege but playing in the Warriors maiden grand final appearance and watching a whole nation come together and get behind us tops the list. You are with these guys for 9 months of the year, day in and day out, all striving to achieve the same goal, creating lifelong friends and great memories along the way. That's what it's all about for me.
Faithers: What did the club (Warriors) do for mental training when you were playing? Did they have any full time or part time doctors to keep the boys mentally tough in games?
Richard: HAHAHA! No doctors but we had this guy named Kevin Campion who kept the boys in check.
Faithers: Why did you choose to rep Australia over New Zealand after being a Junior Kiwi? Do you regret the choice looking back?
Richard: No. From a young age I dreamt of playing origin so I chose Australia to try to get the chance but it never eventuated.
Faithers: What was the actual injury that forced your retirement? How does it effects you today?
Richard: It was my knees. I have no meniscus (cartilage) left between my knees, which means i'll need two knee replacements in the future but other than that body is coping lol.
Faithers: Who do you consider the best player you have played alongside and against and why?
Richard: There are too many players to just single out one.
Faithers: If you could play any position other than prop, where would you prefer to play?
Richard: On the pick and swing. See what all the fuss is about lol
Faithers: Do you sing in the shower? If yes, whats your go to song?
Richard: Yeah I've been known to belt out a tune in the shower. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers (islands in the stream) lol
Faithers: What sort of music do you listen to? Who is your favourite artist and what would be your favourite song?
Richard: I like all sorts of music, except classical, different sounds for for different moods.
Faithers: What's your favourite food?
Richard: Seafood, seafood and seafood.
Faithers: What sort of a kid were you like in school? And what were you favourite/worst subjects?
Richard: I wasn't really a big fan of school. The only reason I pretty much went was to play in all the school sports teams lol. I couldn't stand art or maths.
Faithers: Who wins in a fight, Spiderman or Batman?
Richard: Batman! Hands down.
Faithers: What are you doing with yourself these days? Are you still working as a plumber?
Richard: Yes. When I retired I had nothing to go back to so I enrolled myself in at tech and started a mature age apprenticeship. 8 years later I run my own plumbing business in Sydney.
Faithers: Finally, what does the future have in store for Richard Villasanti?
Richard: Well I''m keen on returning to NZ next year to hopefully watch the Warriors play to their potential and seeing some familiar faces.
"Faither - By the Fans. For the Fans"
Written by G. Sykes (Geese)