Fatialofa ready to make statement after surgery

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 24/08/2013
Michael Fatialofa
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
NEW MAN: Michael Fatialofa in action for Southland against Tasman earlier this month.

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These are much better days for Stags lock Michael Fatialofa.

There was a fitness session at Rugby Park last year where it was obvious just how much trouble the talented second rower was in.

In one of those exercises, which trainers love and players hate, Fatialofa was left behind almost from the beginning, eventually trailing the rest of his teammates by so much it was painful to watch.

To those who didn't know the full situation, it looked like a player who was guilty of not taking their responsibilities as a professional seriously, who had come into the representative season seriously underdone.

But that wasn't the full story. In fact, Fatialofa was suffering from a birth defect which meant the head of both his femurs was too big for his hip sockets.

The condition cut down much of his mobility, made anything other than walking difficult and left him with a pinching sensation in his legs and pain in his lower back. 

Off-season surgery and six months of rehabilitation later and Fatialofa is a new man.

''I'm just happy to be injury-free. I'm happy that my body is right, I can do more on the field and my fitness levels are up,'' he said before the Stags left for Whangarei and a second round game against Northland this afternoon.

Fatialofa, who is in his third season with the Stags, now hopes to cement a place in the Southland forward pack. Last year he managed nine games, but only four of them were starts.

Like all young rugby players, his long-term goal is to earn a Super Rugby contract, but he also wants to help his club side Blues next season after the proud south Invercargill team struggled this year.

Fatialofa said the Stags forwards planned to improve on their scrum performance this afternoon, and continue building their lineout to give their backs some quality ball.

''We obviously know that Rene Ranger is a danger, [but] we've been focussing on our game, rather than theirs, just making sure everyone is really clear on their roles, keeping it quite simple.''

Fatialofa has settled well in Southland after arriving as a fresh-faced Auckland schoolboy rugby prodigy three years ago. He has a part-time job at a bottle store and has enjoyed getting to know people outside of his immediate rugby circle, and having an outlet away from the game.

Stags coach David Henderson is excited about the potential that Fatialofa is starting to deliver on, particularly his ability with ball in hand.

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''It was pretty frustrating the last couple of years for him, because he's had a lack of movement. Every time he tried to run it was affecting his lower back and it looked like he couldn't get out of first gear," Henderson said. 

"It's a big improvement, and while there's still a long way to go, he's starting to look the goods.''

Henderson said issues from the Tasman loss last weekend had been addressed. One Tasman try had come when John Hardie was taken out and there was no one to cover, while another came from some bad alignment in the aftermath of a missed tackle.

''If we can cut those errors down we should be a lot better this week.''

- The Southland Times

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