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Wests Tigers forward Thomas Mikaele.

If a debut season in the NRL isn't already hard enough, Wests Tigers forward Thomas Mikaele was also forced to battle failing eyesight during 2019.

That didn't stop him from ranking alongside the likes of Addin Fonua-Blake and Siosiua Taukeiaho at the top of a key statistical category.

He attracted four defenders on 65 percent of his carries to sit alongside the international props who were major players come September. 

That feat is all the more impressive considering 190-centimetre Mikaele often struggled to see the opposition coming.

Mikaele and Wests Tigers teammate Michael Chee Kam were diagnosed with eye disorder Keratoconus during the off-season, a finding that was a long time coming for the 22-year-old.

Mikaele had been using soft lense contacts and wearing prescription glasses while not playing during 2019.

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"It's pretty much a lump in your eyes that can cause close to blindness and I've got it in both eyes but my left eye is worse than my right," Mikaele told  

"I've got some new hard contacts and soft lenses to play. The condition is too unpredictable, so something like laser [treatment] wouldn't be suitable."

While making minimal excuses for his first year in the top grade, Mikaele said parts of his game were affected by the condition.

"I couldn't see about 15 metres in front of me so a ball coming to me was hard to catch at times or something happening further up the field," Mikaele said.

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"I didn't realise I had eye problems beyond just needing glasses. I started having a lot of handling errors from last year and then over the off-season. I noticed at training I couldn't see as far even with my contacts in.

"When we played night games I couldn't watch the game live if I was on the sideline, I'd always look at the big screen.

"And even looking at the screen it was blurry. It started happening during the day games as well. It wasn't just footy but normal life too."

Mikaele consulted with the club's new Head of Performance, Andrew Gray, who sent him to specialists.

"It's made a big difference now and I think that will be a big difference as well this year," Mikaele said.

"Madge actually mentioned the four defenders stat and I think that's one thing in my game I can evolve with - bringing in four defenders to create space around the field.

"I can see that now and I've been working on combinations with other middles here."

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Mikaele was elevated to the starting side for the Wests Tigers' final five games of last season despite feeling like he struggled to finish the year in a strong fashion.  

"It was good to get some games under my belt and see what the league was like in terms for my body," Mikaele said.

"But there were times throughout the year where I didn't think I performed at my best because of the little things that I was still figuring out week-in-week-out.

"Now that I know that stuff I can be better prepared and I know what's coming. I spent less time on the field as the season went on but I learnt some lessons.

"I'm pretty disciplined now but last year I let a few things creep into my diet like chips and ice cream but I've completely cut that out this year.

"It's made me feel physically better."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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