An underwhelming NRL campaign with the New Zealand Warriors provided plenty of food for thought for Ben Matulino as he digests a year without the psychological benefits of pasta and a playing future without Russell Packer alongside him.
One of the code's premier props, Matulino now hopes the Kiwis' World Cup defence can provide a palatable end to a season soured by dietary concerns, no finals football and the departure of team-mates he hoped to share the remainder of his first-grade career with.
Matulino was a fixture during the Warriors' regular season though not as prominent as he'd have preferred, despite featuring in all 24 games and logging more than 100-metres of go forward on 13 occasions.
He averaged 110m per game, decent numbers though down on the 126.5m a match he managed in 2012, a decrease he partially blamed on weight loss and the absence of comfort food.
"I did things a lot different from previous years," he said, before flying out to England from Sydney with the initial 18-strong player group last night.
"I watched what I ate and I maintained my weight throughout the whole year.
"That was a massive goal for me" - and, as it transpired, a misguided one.
Matulino hovered around a playing weight of 112kg-113kg rather than build into a season his usual way - start at 108kg and gradually climb to 116kg.
"In previous years I've started off real light, next year I'll go back to what worked for me," he said, confirming bread and pasta will be back on the pre-game menu.
Matulino was encouraged to modify his carb intake by Warriors nutritionist Lee-Anne Wann and he accepted the rationale.
"It's weird how it worked. The way I did it this year is probably the ideal way to do it, but it didn't work for me."
The 132-game Warrior struggled to comprehend how his new diet was detrimental, it just didn't quite sit right.
"I just felt different. I felt a lot lighter, it's hard to explain," he said.
"I think it's got to do with confidence. I feel better when I eat what I like before a game. I feel full and can function a bit better. I was missing pasta, pretty much."
Matulino has been given some "leeway" to bulk up on Kiwis' duty though he won't be over-eating once he arrives in the north of England.
"I'll put on weight gradually, not just chuck on 5kg every week," he said, keen to get his teeth into another challenge.
An incumbent during the last two tests against the Kangaroos, Matulino is not taking his retention for granted when the Kiwis open their campaign against Samoa on October 28 (NZ time).
He last played in the Warriors' season-ending loss to St George Illawarra on September 7 so the 14-cap international is underdone compared to Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and debutant-in-waiting Sam Moa.
Canterbury Bulldogs behemoth Sam Kasiano has also rejoined the propping rotation after an injury-plagued season.
"I've got a lot of catching up to do," Matulino admitted, so consequently he will play the warmup game against the Cook Islands in Doncaster next Monday.
A member of the 2010 Four Nations-winning squad, Matulino said while his first World Cup would hopefully alleviate the disappointment of an "up and down" year, in some respects 2014 will still be a sombre experience at Mt Smart.
Matulino is contracted to the end of 2015 and hopes to be a one-club player so is still annoyed that fellow prop Packer and back rower Elijah Taylor will be playing for Newcastle and Penrith respectively next season.
"It's disappointing, I'm not going to lie. We were developed at the club. I thought we could have built the club around Russ and Elijah."
- © Fairfax NZ News