Taufua itching to get back to scoring tries for Manly
Playing round one against Newcastle is the aim for Manly speedster Jorge Taufua as he hopes to put an injury-interrupted career far behind him in 2018.
Heading into his seventh Telstra Premiership season with the Sea Eagles, Taufua had to cast his mind back a few years to find one that didn't start, or end, with an injury or surgery.
Making his NRL debut in 2012, that year and 2013 were pretty much a breeze playing the full complement of 24 clubs games compared with subsequent years. There was the shoulder reconstruction in 2014 (16 games); the knee cap problem at the start of 2015 (17 games); the ankle issues of 2016 (18 games) and then the anterior cruciate ligament tear in round 13 of 2017.
"I was very fortunate in my first two years that I pretty much played every game. That was helpful," Taufua told NRL.com.
"But the first couple of major surgeries I had have set me up for what's come most recently with this," he says while rubbing and studying his right knee with its tell-tale scars indicating a full reconstruction.
"Each year I've seemed to come up with a different injury. But this year I can only prepare as well as I can.
"I'm doing everything asked of me in rehab. Just like any other player I've had to stay positive with the recovery.
"At the moment round one is the aim. I haven't really spoken with the training staff too much about trials," Taufua said, referring to Manly's February 17 clash with Cronulla and the February 24 date with the Sydney Roosters.
"I also haven't done too much contact work. But I've been doing everything else. So round one I'm looking at.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt too much to push it a bit and go for a trial game ... just as long as I'm feeling right because no-one wants to rush these things."
Helping with that, alongside the Manly medical staff and orthopaedic surgeons, were a number of close friends – one of whom he hopes to face in the round one clash with Newcastle, Jamie Buhrer.
Taufua picked up the telephone to ask how they managed the lengthy time on the sidelines.
"I've spoken to a few ex-teammates in Clint Gutherson and Jamie Buhrer about it all. I even reached out to Josh Mansour (Penrith) and Tautau Moga (Brisbane, now Knights) about their recovery to shed some more light for me on what I could expect and how I might feel.
"Everyone is different but they all helped me through the various stages you go through with such a long-term injury. Those guys were a massive help, especially Gutho and Jamie as I've remained pretty close friends with them."
There are a few memories that still haunt a little about the match against Canberra in round 13 at Brookvale's Lottoland Oval last year.
"It happened about 10 minutes into the second half. I heard a click in a tackle but I attempted to play on. Then the second time, I was just turning to run and it went on me," Taufua said.
"It was a very sharp pain. Any weight on it I just couldn't handle. So I just had to hobble off."
No surprises he is eager to return to the Manly left flank, outside centre Brian Kelly.
"I'll just be doing the same kind of stuff when I get back. Everyone knows how I play and who I am, especially there at Lottoland," Taufua said.
"Brian and me clicked really well in our rookie year together as a pairing (in 2017). No-one likes to sit on the sidelines so I'm doing my best to make that round one team. I'm looking forward to getting out there and making up for lost time."
Manly fans would be seconding that motion. Taufua is a former NSW City Origin and Tonga international, who has scored 70 tries in his 112 games in the Sea Eagles colours.
Just last year he scored eight tries in 13 games, made 35 tackle busts and six line breaks. The 26-year-old benefitted from some of Kelly's seven try assists. The rookie centre also made 12 line breaks and 52 tackle breaks, along with eight tries, in his 23 games.
Taufua is almost salivating at what the twosome can accomplish for Manly in 2018.
"I definitely miss playing and crossing that white line," he said, referring specifically to the try line.
"I've missed having that match to look forward to every weekend. When you're in rehab you tick all the boxes, but come Friday, Saturday, you don't get that surge in adrenalin before a game."
He's not far away now and Taufua knows it. His teammates want it too.