It was like my debut all over again: Hiku
After missing the backend of last season through injury, Penrith Panthers centre Peta Hiku likened Saturday night's cameo against the Roosters to his NRL debut back in 2013.
The 24-year-old joined the Panthers in 2016 after three seasons at the Sea Eagles and started well at his new club with a try in each of the first four rounds.
However, the Kiwis international missed the second half on the season after suffering a serious knee injury in the Round 11 loss to the Titans.
His return to footy hit a hurdle when he fractured his eye socket in Round 1 against the Dragons, forcing him to miss the win against the Wests Tigers the following week.
Fortunately he was able to make an earlier than expected return, coming off the bench against the Roosters on Saturday night and playing 27 minutes in his side's heartbreaking 14-12 loss.
"Getting out on the weekend was pretty exciting," Hiku said on Tuesday morning outside Penrith's Rugby League Academy.
"I think missing out on so much footy, it just felt like coming back to the NRL was making it all over again. It was like my debut all over again.
"I was that excited and I was that nervous, which made it worse because I was sitting on the bench watching the game. The nerves were battling me hard, but in the end I got out there for the last 30 minutes so it was exciting.'
It was a miracle Hiku played at all on Saturday given the club had ruled him out for a month after he fractured his eye socket with his first carry of the season against the Dragons.
The second-minute incident earned the ire of the club, but Dragons prop Russell Packer escaped punishment for the high shot and Hiku said there were no hard feelings.
"They came out with a lot of aggression and I just happened to be taking one of our first hit ups and got hit clean. I suppose that's just the game," he said.
"I don’t think [it was anything personal]. I think it was just a big man in the middle coming out to hit one of the wingers and pin them back there. He was trying to do his job and I was trying to do mine and I was in the wrong spot.
"I was a bit furious about missing a couple of games because I'd only played one game. Missing a few games, I was pretty upset about, but after the next day it all settled down. I spoke to the coaches about it and they said they did whatever they had to do but couldn't do much about it."
The next challenge for Hiku is to win back his starting spot, but he knows it won't be easy with Tyrone Peachey, Waqa Blake, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare all playing well, while Josh Mansour continues to recover from his ACL injury.
"Peachey has been playing some good footy there and Dean Whare is back and he's been playing outstanding. I thought he did a good job on the weekend," Hiku said.
"Dallin's there and Waqa is playing well. Everyone has picked up their game and it's somewhere I've got to get up to before I can get in the starting team."