Antonio Kaufusi knows a thing or two about working hard to achieve something only to have it snatched from his grasp at the very last minute.
A late call-up to Australia’s Tri Nations squad after his barnstorming finish to the 2006 season, a 21-year-old Kaufusi was named on the bench to take on Great Britain on November 4 but had to withdraw a couple of days out with a hamstring strain he incurred at training.
He did get his Kangaroos debut two weeks later, but he has not been sighted in the green and gold since.
Less than a year later and having established himself as one of the premier front-rowers in the game, Kaufusi was brought into the Queensland squad for Game One of the 2007 State of Origin Series as 18th man two days before the game. A day later he was named to replace Carl Webb on the Maroons bench and received his first taste of Origin football after 23 minutes of the first half. Nine minutes after the break he tore the patella tendon in his knee in a Jamie Lyon tackle that brought an end to his season; the 26 minutes he racked up that night his only experience at that level to date.
During his six-year stint at the Storm he suffered Grand Final defeat at the hands of the Broncos in 2006, had to watch on from the sideline as the team triumphed in 2007 and then in 2008 was a member of the side that was humiliated 40-0 in the decider by Manly.
So with so much excitement surrounding the Nathan Tinkler buyout of the Newcastle Knights and the imminent arrival of master coach
Wayne Bennett from 2012, the news that he had permission to look elsewhere was not what he was hoping for.
“I got told I could look around, and I’d be silly not to do so, but I try to leave all that up to my manager,” Kaufusi told Big League after playing a starring role in the Knights’ 50-20 defeat of the Titans last weekend.
“My priority right now is to do the best I can for Newcastle, but if I have to go somewhere else, well that’s just part of footy I guess these days.
“I reckon the next couple of years are going to be a pretty exciting time here and I’d like to be a part of that and that’s how I’m looking at it. I’m contracted here until the end of next year so I’d like to see that out and then take it from there.
“I’ve said all along that this group is a pretty special group and I think it is capable of doing some pretty special things. When we concentrate on doing the simple things and not doing anything too flashy, that’s when we play our best football.
“If we can keep doing those little things right then I think we can build some momentum to take into the back end of the season.”
Although the 190-centimetre, 112-kilogram powerhouse doesn’t believe he is back playing the type of footy that earned an international call-up five years ago, recent performances in the Knights’ starting pack suggest he is not far off.
Since being brought back into the starting side three weeks ago the 26-year-old has averaged 129 metres per game from an average of 45 minutes. He will need to deliver something similar against the monstrous Canberra pack that is being led by Kaufusi’s former Storm front-row partner, Brett White.
“I prefer to start. That first 20 minutes is crucial to get the team moving forward and get a bit of momentum. I want to make sure I do my job as one of the starting front-rowers to get our team on the front foot,” Kaufusi said.
“There is a really good mix in the forward pack at the moment. You’ve got some real hard workers in Isaac de Gois and Matty Hilder and they’ve just been unbelievable, getting through so much work and when they go forward they take us big boys with them.”
Picked up by the Knights midway through the 2010 season after an indifferent 18 months at the North Queensland Cowboys, Kaufusi has worked hard to earn the respect of the players around him and settled into Newcastle life with his wife and two young daughters.
“My main goal when I moved down here mid-year was to earn the respect of the playing group,” he says. “Coming into a new club, that was the most important thing to me and hopefully I’ve got that now and I’ll keep working hard to keep it.
“I don’t look back with any regrets or anything. Injuries are just part of footy and I don’t feel bad about anything that happened in the past. I’m just trying to make sure I do everything I can to play good footy now and contribute to the team.”