David Nofoaluma enjoyed a remarkable season for someone who shouldn’t have played beyond round seven.
It was then that he suffered an injury that required groin and hernia surgeries. Rather than get the operations done straight away – a move that would have effectively ended his year – the Wests Tigers winger played on because there was no one to fill his void.
It’s not like Nofoaluma was playing for a contract – he had signed a lucrative four-year extension just weeks before suffering a sports hernia – but he played through the pain anyway.
“It gives you lower abdomen pain, and it takes away your power,” Nofoaluma said.
"I tell you what, I don’t want to experience it again.
"It took a bit out of me. I couldn’t do certain movements. When I was tackled, it was hard for me to do a crunch. Even when sitting up, I couldn’t get out of bed; I had to roll out.
“I’ve relied on some tablets the club gave me to help with the pain, but it didn’t do much. I struggled all year.”
It’s been two months since Nofoaluma underwent the procedure and he is now able to participate in “90 per cent” of the Tigers’ preseason. While South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds suffered a similar injury and just had his hernia operated on, the Wests Tigers flanker opted to also have surgery on his groin to ensure there were no related issues.
“I could have [had the operation straight away], but there was no depth in the team, and Ivan [Cleary] needed me out there,” he said.
“He said to stick it out until the end of the year and go from there.”
When Nofoaluma committed to the Tigers in April, he was the first high-profile player to do so. At the time, the future of the “Big Four” of Aaron Woods, Mitchell Moses, James Tedesco and Luke Brooks was uncertain, and halfback Brooks would prove the only member to stay put.
Within weeks, the joint-venture outfit embarked on a signing spree that netted Josh Reynolds, Ben Matulino, Russell Packer, Chris McQueen, Benji Marshall, Robbie Rochow, Mahe Fonua, Taane Milne and Corey Thompson to vindicate Nofoaluma’s decision.
“When I was signing, there was all that drama happening and I was nervous with [possibly] four good players about to leave,” he said.
"What would happen to the Wests Tigers in 2018? But once I signed I was happy. It made me think afterwards, ‘What’s next for the club?’, and a week later we signed Ben Matulino, and that gave me a bit of happiness; then we signed Packer two weeks after that, and it made me even happier.
"Then Reynolds come in, and I thought, ‘We’ve got a good chance next year’, and there were signings after signings.
“I couldn’t wait to come to preseason to meet them all, and since they’ve been here they’ve slotted in well. There’s a whole new vibe around here.”
Nofoaluma’s injury prevented him from again representing Samoa at the World Cup. It remains to be seen which will be his next representative jersey. The 24-year-old is eligible for NSW, Australia, Samoa and New Zealand, and is yet to decide his priority.
“[It’s] always a goal to make the rep teams,” he said.
"The good thing about me is I’m eligible for Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. It would be nice to play for NSW, but you have to think how many players are there and will stay there. If they play well, it’s a tough one.
“I’ve had a think about it with my family and missus about possibly trying out for New Zealand, but we’ll see how the year goes.”