Forgotten man Moga eyes Round 4 return
He broke down into tears when he was told he had ruptured the ACL in his right knee for the third time by the age of 21 but Cowboys centre Tautau Moga says a cycling program devised by Cowboys medical staff has him on track for an NRL return early in 2016.
As his teammates celebrated their Telstra Premiership success Moga was forced to watch on somewhat forlornly having played six NRL games before rupturing his ACL while playing for Samoa in the Pacific Test in May.
When the now 22-year-old spoke with NRL.com in the sheds after that game he had no idea of the severity of the injury, only having his worst fears realised upon his return to Townsville and subsequent MRI scan.
Seven months into his rehab and eyeing off an NRL return for the grand final rematch with the Broncos in Round 4, Moga said that despite his history of serious injuries "giving up was never an option" and was encouraged by high performance head coach Andrew Croll to incorporate cycling into his rehab.
It was the full lycra suits and everything and he said reaching the top of some of Townsville's most famous monoliths, Castle Hill and Mount Stuart, represented significant milestones on his road to recovery.
Mount Stuart rises 584 metres above sea level and features a steeply inclined road of some nine kilometres and Moga said reaching the top on his bike was one of the proudest moments of his life.
"Castle Hill was good but the big test for me was up Mount Stuart. That was a big ride for me," Moga told NRL.com.
"I was happy that I did it and that's got to be one of my proudest moments, doing Mount Stuart.
"I don't know if you've seen Mount Stuart but it's pretty big. It was just staying in the grind and keeping the legs ticking over.
"Just knowing that once you get to the top that's it... It was a tremendous feeling. I don't think most people do Mount Stuart because it's just so big but once you do it it's like you're on top of the world.
"This was my first time riding a bike but it felt way better than I was with the previous couple of times that I did [my knee]. Bike riding strengthens your knee without putting any pressure through it and it really helped."
Although he is running and completing skills sessions, Moga won't move into full training until after Christmas with the best case scenario a return in Round 4 against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Good Friday.
Given his two previous knee reconstructions on the same leg the Cowboys medical staff are being cautious with his timeline but the Brisbane-born centre said they are the reason he is even close to running back out onto the footy field.
"I just went with the coaching staff. It was me, Andrew Croll, Anthony Wood, Mark Henry, Paul Bowman, Ash Graham, even David Furner helped out with boxing and 'JD' (Jason Demetriou)," Moga said.
"All those blokes there helped me a lot through this period of my third knee, they've been an inspiration as well.
"I spoke to 'Tatey' (Cowboys legend Brent Tate) about it. Tatey's been through it as well and he was a massive help. He shed some light on it but just the rehab team they've got there is really solid and I couldn't do it without them."
Of course, the Cowboys will begin the 2016 season as the defending premiers and Moga's name will be forever etched into North Queensland folklore as a member of the first squad to deliver the club a premiership.
He knows it takes an entire squad to be successful on grand final day but conceded that there is a burning desire to one day share such spoils on the field as a member of a grand final-winning team.
"Yeah it was hard but every club's got a whole squad and the 30 boys that are there put in the effort throughout the whole year," he said. "Even the Origin period, some of the boys stepped up and played so it's a whole squad thing.
"It's good to be in a winning squad but at the same time you want to be on the field in the winning team.
"The boys that got their rings, I'm happy for them and they deserved it but it's a whole squad thing."