LIKE Clint Newton five years ago, Richie Fa’aoso has a chance to enjoy the last laugh at Newcastle’s expense.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say.
Fa’aoso may not have featured in the plans of Knights coach Wayne Bennett, but it says plenty that runaway leaders Melbourne and premiers Manly were eager to add the fearless front-rower to their rosters.
The Storm have prevailed, at least until the end of this season, and it would be no surprise if Fa’aoso becomes a game breaker off the bench in the big games ahead.
Fa’aoso would be the first to admit he has not put his best foot forward this year.
Off contract and out of favour, he has appeared to be devoid of confidence.
But Knights fans know what a damaging impact player he can be.
After joining Newcastle in 2008, the much-travelled Tongan international soon became a crowd favourite at Turton Road.
He was never a workhorse who could grind out an 80-minute effort with 40tackles.
Fa’aoso’s forte has always been hard, straight running and rugged defence.
He plays football like a demolition derby and clearly places little stock in the concept of self-preservation.
Yet he has proven his resilience.
In seasons 2009 and 2010 he did not miss a game.
Last year he played in 22 of Newcastle’s 25 fixtures.
An enduring image of Fa’aoso’s career with the Knights will be him stumbling around Brookvale Oval last year, dazed and confused after a heavy knock.
Even through the haze of concussion, he did not want to let his teammates down.
And to a man, those players love Fa’aoso.
In so many ways, he exemplifies the creed instilled in the inaugural Knights by the club’s foundation coach, Allan McMahon: ‘‘Be the bloke everyone else wants to play alongside.’’
Off the field, Fa’aoso is just as popular with teammates, who enjoy his company and self-deprecating sense of humour.
All of which raises the question why Bennett showed such little interest in retaining the 28-year-old.
There is a theory that Fa’aoso is error prone and makes too many handling mistakes.
But according to NRL Stats, he has fumbled only twice in eight games this season.
Adam Cuthbertson (11 errors in 12 games), Zeb Taia (10 in 13) and Kade Snowden and Neville Costigan (both nine in 14) have been far more problematic.
Admittedly, Fa’aoso’s overall stats for the season are down on his usual standards.
But he has averaged only 32.4 minutes this season, as opposed to 38.5 minutes last year, 35.4 in 2010, 40.7 in 2009 and 34.7 in 2008.
The writing was probably on the wall when Fa’aoso received only 16 minutes of game time against Brisbane in round 13, despite scoring a try in the 50-24 shellacking.
That proved to be Fa’aoso’s last game for Newcastle, which left him on 99 NRL appearances for the club.
It is an injustice that he did not become the 29th Knights player to rack up a century of appearances, a milestone that is usually recognised with the presentation of a framed jersey in front of an appreciative home crowd.
Few players would have deserved it more. But a greater prize now awaits this underrated battering ram.
Like Newton, who famously quit the Knights midway through 2007 to join Melbourne, Fa’aoso is joining a team with a shot at the title.
And whatever heartache he has experienced this season, the jubilation of a grand final lap of honour would surely provide a measure of solace.