Vave's powerful bounce-back after dumping
Given Siosaia Vave grew up a Newcastle fan he admits he's happy to see the club return to the winners' circle but, having bounced back from his own recent dumping, will be out to end their two-game winning run when he faces off against old schoolmate Jamie Buhrer on Friday.
Vave spent the 2016 season with Buhrer at Manly but the two go back way further than that – to the days Buhrer was Vave's captain for Patrician Brothers Blacktown during their high school years.
Vave admits he's happy to see the likes of Buhrer, the Saifiti twins and Mata'utia brothers put some smiles on Knights fans' faces but – playing for his own spot and his own team's top-four aspirations – will be desperate to shut those players down when the Eels host the Knights at ANZ Stadium on Friday evening.
"Yeah I grew up as a Newcastle fan, they had a great forward pack when I was growing up and I was a halfback at heart so I loved 'Joey' Johns coming through," Vave laughed when asked by NRL.com about the prospect of facing the Knights this weekend.
"When my family first came to Australia they settled up at Broadmeadow up there in Newcastle and I think that's how we became Newcastle fans as kids growing up."
Vave said he has been impressed with the improvement in the Knights in recent weeks, even prior to their current two-game winning run.
"They've been unlucky this season. They've got a real good side and been in front in a lot of games but they haven't had that killer spark to finish off teams," Vave said.
"But the last two weeks they've put the nail in the coffin – the Dragons and the Warriors on the weekend so we can't take them lightly at all. They've got some good young kids there playing some good footy – Sione Mata'utia, his brothers, the Saifiti boys, they're really good players. Jamie Buhrer's up there leading them well. You can't count them out."
Vave said he was relishing the chance to face off against his old schoolmate Buhrer.
"Me and JB, we grew up playing footy against each other and went to school together at Patty's, he was my captain at Patrician Brothers Blacktown," Vave recalled.
"He's a great bloke to have in your team, players want to play with him but hopefully he doesn't go too well this week! But I've got a lot of love for Jamie. Always good to come up against him, we've got a long good history."
Knights aside, this game is an important one for Vave. The former Sharks, Storm and Sea Eagles prop missed the start of the season injured, showed some promising form for two months, then picked up a calf injury and missed Rounds 13 and 14.
He returned in Round 15 against the Dragons and had, by his own admission, a sub-par game despite the Eels winning and found himself running around for Wentworthville in the Intrust Super Premiership for the next fortnight after being dropped by coach Brad Arthur.
Vave's form in the four games since being recalled straight into the run-on team – after playing all but one game this year off the bench previously – has been his best all season.
"It was a couple of weeks back, 'BA' sent me back to reserve grade and told me I need to get some more minutes. I took that as a wake-up call and when I got the opportunity to start a few starts back and took it with both hands," Vave said.
"I came off a two week layoff (in Rounds 13-14), I came back from an injury with a torn calf but I came back and played pretty average, I think it was against the Dragons.
"[Arthur] said 'I need more minutes out of you' so he sent me back to reserve grade for two weeks. I went back and played 60 minutes in both games and I was blowing a lot of diesel but I came back and reaped the rewards and I'm playing ok now."
Ok is an understatement; Vave's minutes per game haven't risen much with 35 minutes per game in that period but his average run metres – 126 per game including his two biggest stints of the year – from an average of 11 carries per game – show that not only is he getting highly involved, his impact in terms of metres per carry (11.5 per run) have shot up.
Like many of his fellow blue and gold forwards, Vave responded well to a challenge from Arthur ahead of the Brisbane game to find a way to lift and dominate their star-studded pack.
"'BA' tested us as a group and that was his team spiel of the week and all the boys took it as a challenge because they've got a real good forward pack, a lot of internationals, a lot of Origin players in there so it's a good time to test ourselves against a good side coming into September," he added.