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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Why Tuilagi and To’a Study the Barber Course

Wests Tigers players regularly get their hair cut by teammates before games, but few know that Starford To’a has a background in hairdressing and could turn to the profession after his NRL career ends.

“I didn’t really tell the boys I was cutting my hair, so they don’t bother me after practice,” To’a said. “Kelma [Tuilagi] does a lot, he cuts the hair of Thomas Mikaele and some other boys.

To’a and Tuilagi are among a group of Tigers players currently taking the Fade Like a Barber course at Granville TAFE in an effort to improve their scissor and razor skills.



Trey Peni, Kelma Tuilagi and Starford To’a are among the Wests Tigers players studying the Fade Like a Barber course at Granville TAFE
©NRL Photos


The 16-week course, which players attend every Monday and Tuesday evening, is part of the NRL-VET Pathways program designed to promote the benefits of a vocational education and training qualification for players.


When I watch the NRL, I think, ‘okay, I know what hairstyle is going to follow’




Sherelle Mondolo

To celebrate National Career Week, from May 16-22, NRL.com was invited to attend Granville TAFE as To’a, Tuilagi and rookie Trey Peni practiced the theory they had studied in the previous class. on models and then on real customers.

“We are a few of the club taking the course. It’s something to do away from football,” Tuilagi said. “Everyone loves cutting hair and it’s a good skill to have.”

What started out of necessity and boredom during the COVID lockdowns of the past two seasons has turned into a serious pastime for Tuilagi and other players.

Sherelle Mondolo, head teacher of hair and beauty at TAFE NSW, said NRL stars influence the hairstyles in demand at hair salons after each round of the Telstra Premiership.

For To’a, it’s something he’s been interested in since he was young, as his mother was a hairdresser in Auckland.


Starford To'a has been cutting his hair since he was in school

Starford To’a has been cutting his hair since he was in school
©NRL Photos


“I cut a lot of my friends’ hair at school, and soccer friends when I moved here,” To’a said.

“I raised my hand when I heard about this course because I just wanted to get a little more knowledge.

“I learned a lot with scissors, and just parting and head shapes, facial structure, and how to make beards to suit your face. I also developed better interpersonal skills because you have to talk to clients while you cut their hair.

“We all know football won’t be around forever and we need to have a backup plan. It’s also helpful with your foot, as taking these classes takes the worry out of thinking about some of the foot pressures.

“For me, it’s more of a side hustle, at the moment. I’m just trying to get some knowledge and more skills, but that’s something I definitely see as an option after football.

Tuilagi also plans to put her new skills to good use in a future business.

“The reason I’m doing the course is so I can learn the skills and know what to do and what not to do when you want to open your own business,” Tuilagi said.

“During COVID I was done playing video games and the barbers weren’t open so I started cutting my own hair and watching YouTube for more. I started to cut other people’s hair too.

“Thomas Mikaele was the first one I cut hair after mine. He had long hair and he wanted to style it – it was like a big rat’s tail was fading.

“It’s good that he trusts me because the boys don’t want someone stuffing their hair. Some of them ask me to cut their hair before games.

“I love doing fades and that, but I want to learn how to do scissoring, layering and the hairstyle side so it’s good to do this class.

“It’s been like a hobby, but you’re not going to have football for the rest of your life, so it’s good to learn other skills.”


Thomas Mikaele gets a haircut before games by his Tigers teammate Kelma Tuilagi

Thomas Mikaele gets a haircut before games by his Tigers teammate Kelma Tuilagi
©Robb Cox/NRL Photos


Mondolo said NRL players set hairstyle trends every weekend and she is now studying the games more closely to see what the next fad will be.

“When I look at the NRL I quite often think ‘okay, I know what’s coming in hairdressing or what our barbers will want to learn how to do in our other barbering courses,'” Mondolo said.

“It’s really good for our industry that so many of them have their hairstyles and the way they cut their hair in their image.

“We give them feedback and it’s not always what they want to hear, but they’re passionate about it and taking this course has helped them refine or critique their own work so that when they come next week , they know what they want to learn.”

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