Powerfully built Gold Coast recruit Kalifa Faifai Loa is under no illusion about the tough battle he faces breaking into the Titans’ game-day squad in 2014 but is hopeful coach John Cartwright will consider him for any position he deems fit.
With settled wingers Kevin Gordon and David Mead still at the club, as well as 2013 debutant Anthony Don (who is off contract), fullback William Zillman and fellow new recruits Siuatonga Likiliki and Maurice Blair, Faifai Loa will face stiff competition for a first grade berth as he looks to add to his modest 37 games in four years for the Dragons (2010) and Cowboys (2011-13).
“I’m happy playing anywhere in the outside backs, I’m just looking forward to an opportunity,” he told NRL.com.
Although all of his NRL matches to date have come on the wing, he played strongly in the centres for the Mackay Cutters this year.
Asked whether it would be an issue reuniting with new Titans assistant coach Neil Henry, the coach who often overlooked him for a wing spot at the Cowboys last season in favour of Ashley Graham and Antonio Winterstein (then later Kyle Feldt and Wayne Ulugia), Faifai Loa was unfazed.
“Yeah I’ve worked with Neil before, I’m happy working with him again, there’s no dramas there,” he said.
He added his talks with the Titans began before news came of the Henry move.
Faifai Loa played just two games for the Dragons in his debut season in 2010, scoring a double against the Panthers in his second, but was stuck behind the likes of Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale and moved north to join the Cowboys in 2011.
There he quickly earned a reputation as part of a new, young breed of wingers capable of spectacular try-scoring feats, particularly with the corner post taken out of play. One horizontal-to-the-ground effort against the Roosters in Round 7 2012, with his entire body suspended outside the field of play (see video above) remains a standout.
Yet despite his obvious potential, 2011 remained Faifai Loa’s best year, with 10 tries in 22 games. With heavy competition for backline places he added just six games and two tries in 2012, and three more tries in seven games in 2013. With a year to run on his contract at the Cowboys he asked for a release to move down to the Gold Coast.
Despite the extra competition it will mean for places in the Titans’ backline, Faifai Loa said he was especially excited to be reuniting with new Titan and fellow junior Kiwi, Siuatonga Likiliki.
“It will be good to reunite with Tonga; I’ve played with him before [at junior level],” he said.
It is also pleasing to be leaving on a high, having taken out the Intrust Super Cup with the Mackay Cutters, he said.
“It was good to finish off with a win; it was a strong finish to the season and good to go out on a high note,” he said.
A move to the Titans was made even more appealing by the opportunity to stay in Queensland, he said, adding he was for now not looking past his immediate goal – getting back into training at his new club.
“The body’s feeling good; I’ve been training well,” he said. “I had a good pre-season last year so just looking forward to another good one.”