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Joe puts spray day behind him to feel the Leichhardt love again

Joe Ofahengaue has only played at Leichhardt Oval twice - receiving a standing ovation after one performance and biting back at a fan's spray during the other.

Along with the rest of Wests Tigers summer recruits, Ofahengaue will front for his first NRL outing calling Leichhardt home this Sunday against the battling Cowboys.

It promises to be an emotional affair following the passing of Tommy Raudonikis this week, with the joint-venture to retire the No.7 jumper across all four grades in honour of the Magpies icon.

Ofahengaue knows all too well the struggles already piling up for the winless visitors, having come off the bench for the Broncos when they were thrashed 48-0 at the 'eighth wonder' last July.

That nine-try demolition job sparked a losing run that Brisbane only snapped in round three this year.

Ofahengaue admits he snapped too that miserable night as one Tigers fan gave him a gobful while he sat on the bench for almost an hour, his frustrations boiling over before eventually exiting Red Hill by season's end.

Never give up: How the stars always stay in the game

"I've only played there once in my career and that was last year," Ofahengaue said of a Leichhardt venture this week.

"We got pumped 50. I know [being] on the other end of it it's going to be very loud and hopefully a beautiful day [on Sunday].

"I had a little chat with one of the fans [that night]. It kind of went too far, but it's all in the spirit of the game.

"As an old ex-Bronco you know that the Tigers don't like getting beaten so you know it's going to be a tough gritty game."

Ofahengaue has already seen the other side to the Leichhardt locals though.

The 25-year-old was given a standing ovation from the famous hill for his stint at prop in a big trial win over Manly in February, much to the amusement of teammates afterwards.

A tougher reception awaits with Tongan powerhouse Jason Taumalolo bidding to return from a broken hand for the Cowboys, with Ofahengaue well aware of what's at stake for them.

"They're in the same position I was last year... we know they're going to be desperate," he said.

"They want to win but we've got to be desperate as well. We've got to match that, we need to win as well. I'm more focused on us rather than them."

Teammate James Roberts is another with limited experience playing at the iconic venue, last trotting out at Leichhardt in 2015 during his breakout season for the Titans.

Every try from round 4

Roberts scored a try that day in a 27-20 win, and admits he is overdue for a "meaty" having not crossed the stripe since playing against the Tigers for South Sydney in July last year.

The speedster has battled ongoing effects of the pec injury that ended his 2020 season and Rabbitohs career across his first month at the Tigers, but says his fitness has progressed significantly in recent weeks.

"I've had a few niggles with my pec and I am carrying that a little bit," Roberts said.

Joe Ofahengaue's face tells the story of a horror night at Leichhardt in 2020 with Brisbane.
Joe Ofahengaue's face tells the story of a horror night at Leichhardt in 2020 with Brisbane. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"But I feel a lot better this week and got through the game [against Parrramatta] than the last couple of weeks so I'm looking forward to getting back to playing some good footy and getting a couple of wins.

"You don't really realise how many Tigers fans there are until you start playing for them.

"That will only grow once we get a couple of wins together and that's the plan. We want to get the job done this weekend and put everything into place."

Roberts is still awaiting the outcome of an NRL investigation into his alleged breach of COVID-19 protocols when he attended last week's Tim Tszyu-Dennis Hogan bout against NRL advice.


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