Faifai Loa: Glad To Be Back
By Tony Webeck (NRL.com)
A simple nickname convinced Kalifa Faifai Loa that returning to the club where he made his NRL debut in 2010 was the right move.
He was 'Cuzzy' to his teammates back then and when he arrived for pre-season training in November was 'Cuzzy' once again, the likes of Mitch Rein and Jack de Belin welcoming him back into the fold.
After spending two years at the Titans and fighting every week to prove to coach Neil Henry he was worthy of first grade it was fate that Faifa Loa's first game in the NRL for 2016 would come on the Gold Coast and sweet revenge that he'd score a try in the Dragons' 19-14 win.
Unable to push his way into the Titans team last season until Round 16, Faifai Loa played the final six games of the season and scored five tries in his final four and had hoped to remain at the club.
But embroiled in the Titans drugs saga for which charges against him were eventually dismissed, Faifai Loa's future remained in limbo before the Dragons swooped in with a contract just days after his name was cleared.
It was not only a relieving call that extended his NRL career but one that allowed him to rejoin a club where he had held such fond memories.
"I always wanted to come back to the Dragons," Faifai Loa told NRL.com. "I left on good terms and I liked it.
"'Mary' (St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor) gave me the opportunity and hopefully I did the job today for the boys.
"I enjoyed it when I was here in 20s so that was good and anyone who knows the 'Gong knows it's a good place.
"I know some of the boys too, Jack de Belin and Mitch Rein, and they haven't changed one bit. The boys call me 'Cuzzy' still so it's good to have that nickname back after six long years."
An enigmatic player who chose to volleyball-punch a ball dead in-goal at one point on Saturday rather than simply running it out – "I'm just glad he hit it and didn't miss it," said McGregor – Faifai Loa was targeted by his former Titans teammates who kicked to his corner time and again.
He followed through on a Josh McCrone grubber to score his third try as a Dragon in the 18th minute and said it was a satisfying to get one over his former teammates.
"The boys out there were giving me some smart comments so I just blocked it out," said the 26-year-old former Kiwi international.
"The old me probably would have answered back too and played along with it.
"The boys were pretty scared there but our goal-line defence, they probably should have scored at least three tries on our right side but we just hung in there and held them up too."
McGregor acknowledged that while Faifai Loa is a "genuine try-scorer" it was his ability to withstand repeated raids in defence that was most pleasing.
"Kalifa got challenged with a couple of targets and he reached every one of them," said McGregor.
"He was another person who was real busy and I thought defensively he was very good today. He scored a nice try form a kick and did some really good things out of the back of the field.
"You only have to look at his record and he's a person that really likes to get involved in the hard stuff and he's got energy. That's important from an outside back and [Jason] Nightingale on the other wing is exactly the same."
Faifai Loa's next assignment will be a maiden Anzac Day game against the Roosters, provided he gets through McGregor's video session on Monday unscathed.
"We were just talking about that and the boys said it's one of their favourite games to play of the year," he said.
"The crowd gets massive and that it's good to be a Dragons player when all the Red V fans are out there.
"I'm looking forward to that one if I get picked but one step at a time, video first on Monday."