Feleti Mateo is still being driven by his desire to earn a NSW Blues jersey. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Warriors forward Feleti Mateo admits watching the World Cup with great envy, but says he doesn't regret his decision to commit his allegiance to NSW.
In fact, the former Parramatta Eel hasn't given up hope of fulfilling his Origin dream next season, revealing that the blue jumper has been the driving force getting him through an arduous pre-season that is already into its fifth week.
The Warriors were the first NRL team to return to training, coming back just 22 days after the Roosters won the grand final.
"Personally, I wasn't surprised. I knew we needed to get in early. It didn't really feel like a break. We've been back for a fair bit now but the boys seem to be doing well," Mateo told NRL.com.
The off-season would have been a far more different proposition, however, had Mateo appeared for his native Tonga at the World Cup.
Five years after representing the Mate Ma'a in the 2008 tournament, Mateo was again approached to pull on the red jumper, but a combination of the birth of his first child and eligibility issues meant Mateo was force to watch the World Cup on TV.
"I've definitely been jealous, seeing all the boys' photos and videos," Mateo said. "And even just watching the games, man, the quality was so good. I don't think there was a team that was a real easy-beat.
"Tonga came and asked me if I could play but I had to say no. I don't think I could have anyway with the eligibility. I've still got a little bit to wait until if I wanted to change again."
The birth of his first daughter Tahlia, however, helped ease some of the pain.
"Obviously I found out nine months before Tahlia was born that we were going to have a baby, but just the timing of it – I didn't want to leave my wife by herself," Mateo said.
"It's been good because I've had a good two months helping my wife [Michelle] at home. We don't really have any family over here, so we've just had to rely on each other. But it's been the best thing ever. It's been unreal."
Heading into his fourth season in Auckland, Mateo had surgery last week on a troublesome knee but should be back at full strength after Christmas. From there he's set the goal of finally breaking into the representative arena and advancing beyond his two City Origin jerseys.
"I've just had a clean-up on my knee, which hadn't allowed me to run this pre-season so I've been doing a lot of weights training," Mateo said.
"Hopefully when I come back after Christmas I'll be 100 per cent. It just depends on how I recover. I know I've talked about it heaps, but I still want to play for NSW. I haven't given up hope on that.
"If I can have a good pre-season and start with some good form into the season, you never know. But overall, I just want to concentrate on playing good footy for the Warriors."