Giving up your job, your life, your family and your country all in one go is a big call – and that’s even before you chuck all the complications of a pandemic into the mix.
But it was a decision that’s paid off in more ways than one for New Zealand Warriors star winger Marcelo Montoya and his wife, The Hits radio producer Tayla, despite years of upheaval, separation and uncertainty.
Now, they happily tell Woman’s Day they couldn’t be prouder to be Kiwis – and they’ve completely and utterly fallen in love with Aotearoa.
“It’s been the most amazing year,” says Marcelo, 27. “It was always the right decision to come here. We love New Zealand and Auckland so much. The lifestyle and the vibe are incredible, and of course we had a great year on the field too.”
Tayla, 26, adds, “I don’t want to leave New Zealand. It’s been very good to me!”
The Montoyas have settled in quickly to the Kiwi way of life after only a year or so of living here, despite the fact Marcelo has been playing for the Warriors for the past three seasons.
“I signed with the Warriors and thought we’d be moving to New Zealand straight away, but then the pandemic happened,” he explains. “We only made it over here last year, and we were based in Australia for the 2021 and 2022 seasons.”
Tayla continues, “We’d already sold our cars – we were all prepared for the move – but then COVID hit and it was like, ‘Psych!'”
The week Marcelo decided to become a Warrior, he also decided to become a fiancé, popping the question to his girlfriend of almost six years in their hometown of Sydney.
Tayla laughs, “I was like, ‘Does he want me to move with him or is it just him?’ But he signed his contract on the Monday and proposed on the Friday – although then I was like, ‘Is this a stitch-up to get me to move?!'”
Ever since, life has been crazy for the couple, who first met nine years ago, when the Chilean-Fijian winger was playing for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Tayla was a cheerleader.
“I remember he was very mature for his age,” says Tayla. “I know that’s saying a lot for an 18-year-old, but he was just so different to anyone I’d met before, especially from where I’m from in Sydney – it’s such a closed-off coastal town and everyone knows everyone’s business! Plus, no one there looks like him. As soon as I saw him – all tall, dark and handsome – I was like, ‘Jesus!'”
For Marcelo, he recalls first noticing Tayla’s beauty, before coming to know her sharp intelligence and work ethic. “She’s a hard worker,” he says. “She’s very smart and she already knew then what she wanted to do with life – that was really important. We just clicked straight away.”
The couple had to wait out COVID before tying the knot in a stunning Sydney ceremony last year. Tayla laughs, “My brother decided to flick in a wedding around the same time, so my parents said to me, ‘Don’t you bloody dare get married close to each other – it’s not good for the banker!’
“It was honestly so much fun – the best day. Although I had a deep, deep depression after it because I was like, ‘What do I have to look forward to now?’ So that’s why we have our dog Louie because I was really bored afterwards. We’re not ready to have kids quite yet, so the dog seemed like a great idea… And he was!”
Now, after all of the personal excitement, and the multiple moves and relocations as they followed the Warriors around their various Australian bases – Marcelo recalls, “I think it was from New South Wales to Gold Coast, then Gold Coast to Brisbane, then Brisbane to Auckland in the space of two years!” – life for the couple and beloved dachshund Louie is refreshingly and wonderfully “boring” as they revel in the stability of putting down roots in Tāmaki Makaurau.
Weekends consist of taking Louie for walks around their East Auckland suburb and heading out for coffee. “We’re really, really boring,” insists Marcelo. “We don’t get up to much!”
Tayla continues, “When we told people we were moving to New Zealand, they were a bit surprised and kept saying, ‘Huh? It’s usually the other way around!’ But we’ve really enjoyed it.”
“We’re settled now and it’s awesome,” adds Marcelo. “I’m signed with the club until the end of 2025, and we’ll see what happens then, but we both love it here so much and I love it at the Warriors. The plan is to stay there for as long as I can. I’d love to finish my career there. It’s a great club and we’re both so happy that we’re here.”
He and Tayla are remarkably similar when it comes to their extroverted personalities.
“Although we’re different in the fact Marcelo’s a clean freak, and I’m very chill and clumsy, and I don’t really care about anything!” she laughs.
They’re both loving the slower pace of life in Auckland, which was a surprise to them. Tayla says, “You don’t realise how psychotic Sydney is until you move away. Now every time we go back, it’s really overwhelming and now I realise why I’m such a cruel driver because everyone over there reckons they’re Formula One drivers!
“It’s so much more chill here and people are so, so friendly – it’s actually ridiculous how friendly. Everyone wants to help people here. Even with my job on radio, listeners are so lovely and willing to help out anyone who needs anything.”
Having come from the cut-throat world of Aussie radio, after a stint working on The Hits’ afternoon show, Tayla absolutely loves her role as an executive producer for Breakfast With Jono & Ben, which means keeping Kiwi jokers Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce in check every morning.
“Honestly, I’ve never met two men like that who are so passionate and excited about ideas,” she says. “It’s fun to be around and I’m never bored. It makes me want to work harder. Besides Marcelo, they’re the hardest workers I’ve ever met.”
And, of course, it’s also been a year to remember for Marcelo, with the Warriors enjoying success and adoration like never before, winning 16 of their 24 games and making the preliminary finals for the first time since 2011.
When we mention the “Up the Wahs!” phenomenon, the league star smiles, “It was so crazy how the country has got behind us. It’s been amazing. I’ve never experienced that in my life and it made the move so much easier. Actually, it sucks that it went by so fast!
“I remember my Kiwi sister-in-law telling me that no one really cares about the Warriors here. She warned me it was all about the All Blacks and I thought, ‘Great! I don’t want that craziness anyway.’ When you’re in Sydney and you play for a club like the Bulldogs, you’re always hassled in the media and they’re on your backs 24/7. But then it ended up that we are getting the same love as the All Blacks!
“It’s been a year to remember, that’s for sure. We’re just so grateful to be able to call this place home now.”