TOWERING Knights forward Jacob Saifiti believes the agonising shoulder injury he suffered last season, which required two bouts of surgery and restricted him to eight games, might actually prove to be a blessing in disguise.
Saifiti shattered his shoulder blade in five places during Newcastle’s 33-26 loss to Gold Coast on May 19 and spent the rest of the season as a spectator, his arm in a sling.
After initial surgery to stabilise the damaged joint, he needed a secondary operation in the off-season to repair a stretched nerve.
Six months after he was injured, the 22-year-old is on the road to recovery and remains confident he will be fit and available for Newcastle’s opening trial match in 2019.
And the disappointment and frustration of spending most of 2018 on the sidelines will provide motivational fuel as he battles for a place in Nathan Brown’s engine-room rotation.
“When I hurt my shoulder, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Saifiti told the Newcastle Herald.
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“It really opened my eyes up. Up until then, I was a bit naive. I just assumed everything was going to happen. I had a decent 2017 and I had a good World Cup campaign with Fiji, and I just thought everything was going to fall into place.
“I trained hard in the pre-season, but even in the eight games I did play, I was probably only happy with a couple of them.
“Then when I got hurt and I had to watch the boys play, it made me hungry and realise that I have to really rip in.
“So from that point of view, the injury was probably good for me. I think it needed to happen.”
Saifiti says his recovery is “ahead of schedule”, although he is yet to resume contact training or his full weights program.
“At this point of time, I’m still not 100 per cent and I’m not really thinking about footy,” he said. “My main goal is just to get myself [physically] ready for the season.
“Having an injury-free season is my main priority.
“It’s all about getting my body right so that when the season starts, I’m in the picture.
“To be realistic, I played eight games last season and I haven’t played since May, so I’m behind the eight-ball as it is.
“But I’ve been training really hard and hopefully that pays off and I can stay injury free.”
Thrown in at the deep end as a 19-year-old debutant in 2016, along with his twin brother Daniel, Jacob now has 47 NRL games and seven Tests for Fiji to his name.
He believes the increased competition for selection next season, after the recruitment of experienced Tim Glasby (Melbourne) and James Gavet (Warriors) – along with the likely signing of Canterbury’s Test prop David Klemmer – will bring out the best in all Newcastle’s front-rowers.
“I’m praying we do get Klemmer, honestly,” Saifiti said.
“He’s been one of my idols, someone I’ve looked up to for the last few years.
“I’ll probably end up picking his brain so much that he thinks I’m annoying.”
The fractured scapula that ended Saifiti’s season was similar to the injury that Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk famously carried into the 2018 grand final.
“He’s one brave man,” Saifiti said of Cronk.
“It’s definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced.
“Credit where it’s due, he toughed it out and helped them win the grand final.”
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