Mixed emotions as Richie Fa’aoso heads south

MELBOURNE-bound forward Richie Fa’aoso thought his career may have been over before the NRL frontrunners came knocking but says his decision to leave the Knights mid-season was not easy.

Fa’aoso signed with Melbourne on Wednesday for the rest of this season after falling out of favour with Knights coach Wayne Bennett one game short of racking up 100 games for the club.

The 28-year-old Tongan international joined the Knights in 2008 and was a mainstay of the side until recently. He has played only eight NRL games this year, his last coming in the 50-24 loss to Brisbane in round 13.

But despite his tenuous position at the Knights and the obvious lure of joining the NRL favourites, Fa’aoso said it was not an automatic decision to take what he thought might be a career lifeline.

‘‘I wasn’t thinking straight away that I was going,’’ Fa’aoso said from a truck yesterday as he began the moving process in Newcastle.

‘‘When I heard it, I was honoured that they wanted me because at the time my confidence was pretty low and I had thought this was maybe the end of my career, so I was stoked when they hit me up.

‘‘But leaving the boys mid-season, I was on 99 games. I thought, ‘Should I hold out for the rest of the year,’ but I had to think what was best for me.

‘‘I had a feeling Wayne wasn’t going to give me another shot, so I had to take the chance with both hands. I’d be crazy not to take that opportunity.’’

Although on the outer in Newcastle, Fa’aoso was being courted by the Storm and Manly and could still join the Sea Eagles next season.

Despite attracting interest from teams higher on the ladder, Fa’aoso said he understood the Knights’ stance and admitted he had missed his opportunity to impress Bennett.

‘‘I was hoping I could stay in Newcastle, but I knew that I wasn’t playing the best,’’ he said.

‘‘I had my chance at the start of the year and I blew it, so I knew it was kind of it for me.

‘‘Some of those games there, it just wasn’t me.

‘‘I wasn’t running the ball as hard as I usually do ... I can’t put my finger on why I wasn’t playing my best. It’s been kind of a weird year this year, but it’s a new start now.’’

Although excited about the opportunity under Craig Bellamy in Melbourne, Fa’aoso said he would miss Newcastle – a city he still hopes to call home again.

‘‘It was sad to leave but it’s just part of the business,’’ he said. ‘‘I will always have great mates here and some of the boys are like brothers to me.

‘‘I will probably come back here when I finish footy.’’He is hoping to be settled in Melbourne by Sunday and play the following weekend with NSW Cup side Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, which acts as a feeder team for Melbourne and Cronulla.

He knows he has work to do to make the Storm line-up after speaking with Bellamy this week.

‘‘He said he just thinks they can really benefit from me being there if I’m playing a bit better,’’ he said. ‘‘He thinks they can improve my D [defence], but he didn’t think it was the big things, it’s just about doing the little things right.

‘‘But there really wasn’t much to talk about, I’ve just got to get down there and rip in first, and if I can do that I suppose I could get a shot.’’

A Knights fan favourite because of his hard-running and big-hitting efforts off the bench, Fa’aoso was thankful for the support and implored Newcastle fans to keep the faith.

‘‘They’ve got great fans, the Knights, and the way they got behind me always gave me a boost,’’ he said.

‘‘I wouldn’t be the player I am without them. I just want to tell them to stick by the boys, they’ll end up coming good. They’re a good bunch of guys here.

‘‘I’m going to miss them and the fans big time.’’

Knights centres Wes Naiqama and Junior Sa’u have also been told to explore their options elsewhere. The NRL player transfer deadline is tomorrow.

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