A trimmed-down Daniel Saifiti has candidly revealed how a stern wake-up call from coach Nathan Brown last season about his diet and ballooning weight has left him hungry to take his game to another level this year.
On the road to recovery from off-season shoulder surgery that cost him a spot in the Fijian World Cup squad, Saifiti hopes to be ready to rip in for the Newcastle Knights’ in their season-opener against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 9.
If he does prove his fitness for the clash with the Eagles, he will be around a staggering nine kilograms lighter than he was at the same time last year.
“They wanted me to put on muscle but I probably put on too much fat as well after too big an off-season and I came back in over-weight last season,” Saifiti said.
“For round one, I was 127 kgs but I’m around 120 now so I’m pretty happy. I still want to lose another couple of kilos and hopefully play at a good 118 or 119 all season. That’s the goal.
“I feel good. Even allowing for the shoulder recovery, I feel like it’s the fittest I’ve ever been. I’m more agile and my lateral movement is better.”
Coach Brown can take plenty of credit for the new, improved Saifiti.
He was on the big prop’s case two or three times last season but it wasn’t until he benched him for a game against Brisbane in July that the penny finally dropped.
“Browny had a few talks with me and it probably wasn’t until the third time that it hit home and I got dropped to the bench for a game against the Broncos,”he said.
“After that, the last six or seven weeks, until I did my shoulder in that second last game, was probably the best I’ve played in the NRL.
“Browny was just really honest with me. He had a stern talk to me and pretty much said that with the players we’ll have next year, you are dropped to the bench now but next year, you’ll be out of the side altogether and playing reserve grade.
“That hit home so I pulled my finger out and found that when I was eating good and doing the right things off the field, it added to my form on the field at the end of the year.
“In many respects, I was probably guilty of taking my spot in the team for granted.
“I won’t be doing that this year with the squad we have got. If I have a few bad games like I did last year, I won’t be playing first grade that’s for sure. I’ve learnt my lesson.”
Saifiti said he won’t be gambling on his shoulder for the Manly game if he is not fully recovered.
He suffered the injury in the club’s penultimate clash last season against Canberra and had surgery less than a fortnight later, ruling him out of the World Cup.
“I was disappointed to not go to the World Cup with my brother,”he said.
“We had a good team there and beat New Zealand so to be part of that would have been something special.
“But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Saifiti and teammate Mitch Barnett, who also had shoulder surgery in the off-season, were back into pre-season training three to four weeks before the rest of the squad resumed last November.
“The arm was in a sling for six weeks and I basically spent that time on the Central Coast being looked after by my mum and nan,”he said.
“When we came back in, it was just leg work and some cardio initially three or four times a week,”he said.
“I’m slowly getting back into doing weights on the bad shoulder and some really light contact. But it’s not something I want to rush.
“If you judge it wrong by a couple of weeks, you can miss the whole season. I’m hoping to be back for that final trial against Parramatta but I’m not going to lie. If it is not ready by round one, it is not ready.
“It would be pretty selfish and pretty dumb to risk it.”
In many respects, I was probably guilty of taking my spot in the team for granted.Daniel Saifiti
As for his new streamlined physique, Saifiti said:
“Looking at pictures this time last year to now, I’m completely different. My mindset is so much better going into this season. I can’t wait.”