Manly prop Josh Aloiai says he has no bad blood with his old Wests Tigers teammates after his ugly contract stoush and protracted exit prompted a torrent of social media abuse.
Aloiai addressed one of the off-season's biggest stories for the first time at Sea Eagles HQ on Monday, with the Samoan prop likely to get an early hit-out against his former club in a February 28 trial at Leichhardt Oval.
Aloiai's release request last November stunned Tigers hierarchy by texting CEO Justin Pascoe that "I have no desire to put a Wests Tigers jersey on again" after talks around an upgraded extension had been apparently progressing well.
The about-face prompted chairman Lee Hagipantelis to call for both contract reform and Aloiai to "mow lawns at Leichhardt" to see out the final year of Tigers contract, with the 25-year-old accused of walking out on his club for a pay cheque.
Aloiai declined to talk about how his relationship with Tigers hierarchy "broke down" so dramatically, beyond saying it was the "opportunity" rather than a pay rise that lured him to Sydney's northern beaches.
But he maintains he is on good terms with former teammates at least, despite copping a barrage from Wests Tigers supporters as he left Concord.
"I've still got a lot of friends at the Wests Tigers, I still tend to stay in contact with a lot of the boys there," Aloiai told NRL.com.
"No bad blood there not at all. I've still got some really good relationships there that I'll probably have for life.
"I was really close with Michael Chee Kam, Luciano [Leilua], Alex Twal, Jacob Liddle. When you were there for five years you build a lot of good relationships."
The social media sledging went both ways, at least in the early stages, when Aloiai responded to the chairman's comments with a post of himself photoshopped into pushing a lawn mower.
"Obviously there's comments made on the other end and some of my friends and family sent me some funny memes I just posted one of them I thought it was funny," he said.
"But outside of that it's just a bit of tongue in cheek really."
The wider backlash at his exit crossed a line at times he said, which Aloiai declined to go into.
But the 25-year-old said he understood where the fans angst came from given the way things unfolded.
"Naturally, people are passionate about the game and the thing that I loved about being a Tiger was the passionate fans. So I was just on the receiving end," Aloiai said.
"I just drowned it out and stay focused on what's important, my family and my faith.
Aloiai: No bad blood from Tigers players over Manly move
"My Instagram, my departing message was to thank the club and the fans for everything over the last five years, I think I played nearly 100 games for their club, a big piece of my journey will always be with the Wests Tigers.
"I trust the majority of the fans know that there's a lot more going on behind the scenes. So I trust the judgement to make call on my character and who I am as a person and a player.
"Other than that, I'm just, I'm thankful for, for the five years has been at the Tigers and there's no bad taste in my mouth just because of the way it ended.
"Looking at the big picture I'm just happy and grateful."
Turbo: Foran has an aura
Aloiai said the chance to work with Des Hasler and assistant Steven Hales, the coach he first came across as a Kiwi schoolboy, drove his move to the northern beaches, as well as the chance to push for finals football alongside stars Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic.
"Look at our roster. Our halves with DCE and Kieran Foran and their combinations," Aloiai said.
"I think our fullback is the best in the game and we have young forwards ready to step up given the opportunity.
"This is just exciting I think we're doing all the things right to have a really positive 2021."