Fonua overcomes being told he wouldn't play Cowboys
If Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary stuck with his plan A from Monday, cult figure Mahe Fonua would have turned out for reserve grade side Western Suburbs on Saturday.
Despite proving more than capable of holding his own in the past fortnight in losses to the Eels and Warriors, the 25-year-old was on the outer in the lead-up to the clash against the Cowboys with Malakai Watene-Zelezniak pushing for a return.
A change of heart from Cleary – who opted to leave out Kevin Naiqama 24 hours later – enabled Fonua to be tested in the centres, and what occurred next was a man-of-the-match performance.
"It's been an eventful week, at the start I was told I wasn't playing," Fonua said.
"I got a call late on Tuesday night to get told I was playing. That's rugby league, there's a massive turn of events. In 24 hours things can change like that.
"I've seen that as a second chance and opportunity to cement my spot in the team.
"[It] was the best way I could have played to show the coach what I'm about in that position and the fans I can try out on the field. Hopefully they're all pleased with the win."
Fonua could have been forgiven for feeling hard done by with his initial omission.
He was strong in a beaten outfit against the Warriors with 124 metres and two offloads – including a miraculous effort to score a try in the corner.
Defensively the former Melbourne Storm winger was sound, too, with no missed tackles.
"That's how cut throat the business is we're in," Fonua said.
"With the depth in our squad that's always going to be the case. You just wear it and don't be kicking stones because that's the last thing the coach wants to see."
After Thursday night's effort against the Cowboys, Fonua's spot should be secured for next week's clash with Penrith – he ran for 230 metres in the centres, made 87 post contact metres and had five tackle breaks.
But as he mentioned, nothing is guaranteed.
"Having the opportunity to play in my preferred position, hopefully the performance cements the spot there," he said.
"My preferred position is centre and coming back here to the NRL after being away for two years, wherever I was put I wanted to have a chance to be on the field.
"It's not a for foreign position, I thought the edge worked well there. It was a good result to get us back on track."
Cleary gave nothing away on selections in the post-match press conference but was impressed with Fonua's effort in the centres.
"Mahe's one of those guys that sometimes when he gets the ball, both coaches hold their breath," Cleary said.
"I guess he's played a bit of both [positions] over the years, but he looked a bit more comfortable there tonight and certainly played his part in that win.
"Back at the Storm he was a good player but there was always an error or two around him, but some guys are like that. Generally speaking I think if you're to ask the opposition whether you'd rather play against him or not, it would probably be not.
"Tonight he did well."