The fact Wests Tigers rookie Josh Aloiai is on track to become the first player from the club to play every game in his debut season is even more remarkable considering the Tigers picked him up from Parramatta with an injury that rubbed out his pre-season.
The 20-year-old Aucklander suffered a serious hip injury in the reserve grade competition last season and was still on the sidelines when he was picked up by the Tigers in an injury-wrecked year for what both parties hoped would be a successful 2016.
That has proved to be the case – dramatically so, as the rookie has not only played every single game but forced his way into the starting team and forged a dangerous right-edge combination with in-form five-eighth Mitch Moses.
Speaking to NRL.com in the grandstand of a sodden Concord Oval during the week as his team prepared to launch a last-ditch effort to earn an unlikely finals berth – needing two wins whilst hoping for two straight losses for rivals Gold Coast – Aloiai said he felt blessed to have had things pan out the way they have.
"This year has definitely exceeded my expectations. I just feel really thankful and blessed how the year's gone and I'm looking to finish the year strong," Aloiai said.
Elaborating on his broken hip last year, Aloiai said: "I was running and as I was getting tackled my hip subluxed and it the process fractured my posterior wall of my hip.
"But praise God it's 100 per cent and I'm playing footy this year injury free."
It makes Aloiai one of those rare players who is actually looking forward to getting into pre-season, given he missed out last year.
"I can't wait for pre-season," Aloiai said.
"I wasn't able to have a pre-season this year to get fit and able because I had a broken hip but I'm actually – most people don't look forward to pre-season but I'm looking forward to it. It's going to set the platform for next year for me and it's really going to help me."
Aloiai credited fellow rehab group members Matt Ballin, Aaron Woods and James Tedesco, who each spent part of the off-season sidelined, for keeping him positive in the early days at his new club.
"I was able to start training just after Christmas into the new year," Aliai said.
"In rehab I trained really, really hard with the likes of Matt Ballin who was always pushing me. Aaron Woods and James Tedesco who were in rehab at that point as well so we had a good group and we ripped in every day at training.
"It was a little bit [hard] but I had a lot of faith that this year would be good and I was surrounded by people like I said and we were working really hard on rehab and staying positive and just keen to start the year."
Despite growing up playing for the Glenora Bears in west Auckland, Aloiai was snapped up by then-Eels recruitment manager Peter Nolan as a teenager before he entered the Warriors system – but nevertheless is cherishing a chance to play in what he regards as a home crowd of friends and family when the Tigers travel to face the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium.
"It will be a tough game, Warriors at home on Sunday, but it's a home game for me – I'm Auckland born and bred so it's exciting," Aloiai said.
"It's going to be good seeing family and friends but that's not my priority, my priority is to go over there and put in a good performance and get the two points against the Warriors."
Of his blossoming combination with Moses on the right edge – which was on full display in a win over the Eels a month ago – Aloiai praised Moses' maturity and leadership.
"We're really learning how to play off each other and compensate and help each other," he said.
"Mitch, he plays with so much heart, he's always playing above his weight but you can never tell. He's always passionate and enthusiastic and plays with 100 per cent heart every week.
"He's definitely put his hand up to be a leader in our team. Sometimes you forget how young he is because he's so wise, he's got a good footy IQ and leads the boys around the park."