After a long layoff, Thomas Leuluai will return for what feels like a brand-new Warriors team this week. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
After a nine-month struggle with a stubborn groin injury, Warriors utility Thomas Leuluai believes his body is finally ready for a return to the rigours of NRL football.
The osteitis pubis injury was originally sustained in a November World Cup match, and has had doctors bewildered as to how to treat it ever since.
After making a comeback in the Warriors' fourth-round victory over the Wests Tigers in April, the Kiwi veteran appeared in the next three matches before being sidelined again and having surgery to remove a small sports hernia in late May.
"I am very excited, it has been a long time and a lot of hard work to get back so I am very grateful to get a shot this week," the 29-year-old said.
"I have put it through enough tests and I have done a lot of work and had an operation.
"I know Cappy [coach Andrew McFadden] and the medical staff wouldn't let me have a crack if I wasn't right."
McFadden said there was no doubt surrounding Leuluai's health and confirmed that the club had exercised plenty of caution on his return date.
"Thomas has been knocking on my door every week; he is right to go," the rookie coach said.
"For the role he plays this weekend he is going to be able to do that comfortably.
"At this stage [dummy-half] is probably his best way back into the side. With the groin injury he hasn't been able to do much kicking so I think dummy-half is somewhere he can really add to the team."
The prolonged wait has been agonising for Leuluai, who last season played every minute of the Warriors' 24 matches, amounting to a total of 1920 minutes of football.
"The past year really has been frustrating, I haven't come across an injury like this in my career," said Leuluai, who will make his 50th NRL appearance this week – more than 11 years after his debut in 2003.
"It tests you in different ways, it was very frustrating not knowing when you would be back or even how to fix it at one point.
"I have to thank the medical staff who have done a great job to get me back.
"The missus is happy I am playing, she is sick of me being grumpy.
"The side has been going really well and I am just grateful to get a shot on the bench with the way they have been playing.
"It has been good [to have the team playing well], because I suppose there wasn't really any rush for me to get back, at the start of the year it was a bit different and I maybe jumped back in a bit early."
Since his last outing against the Dragons in Round 7 the Warriors have undergone a significant transformation under the guidance of McFadden, winning seven of their past nine games.
Leuluai admits that the team he will come off the bench for on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium bears little resemblance to the one that started the year with five losses from the opening seven games.
"It's like I signed for a new club mid-season to be honest," he said.
"The training sessions are more intense, the detail of our game is a lot better and our attitude in defence is a lot better too.
"A training session from the start of the year to now is completely different.
"The results speak for themselves. Cappy has turned us into an all-rounded team at the moment, we don't rely on anyone, the team just keeps ticking over."