All the frustration of spending the best part of two years out injured is ebbing away from Jerome Ropati as he comes to the realisation that he'll finally be able to play for the Warriors again on Saturday.
Ropati only lasted until the 10th round last season when he injured his knee playing against the Sydney Roosters. That followed the 2011 campaign where he suffered from the same knee problem in round three, against St George Illawarra, and was forced to watch the team play in the grand final from the sidelines.
Thankfully, all of the rehab and recovery is done for the 28-year-old and he'll start this weekend's game against the Brisbane Broncos from the interchange bench.
"It has been a long road and I am glad to be in the frame," said Ropati, who admitted he worried about ever being able to play at top level again after the injury against the Roosters.
"This has been the second long-term injury and I didn't have much time after the first time.
"The nature of the injury is the same thing, I had doubts about whether I was able to recover from it and would be fit enough for the start of the season and also be effective during the season.
"All of those questions have somewhat been answered, I just need to answer the rest when I play."
Ropati admitted it hit him to be away from the Warriors for so long and to train on his own while the rest of the squad were focused on their game each week.
"It has been really tough to be honest, simply because you're away from the team and that's where you get a lot of your encouragement from and [the] will to train as hard as you can.
"Matty [Elliott, Warriors coach] and the coaching staff have been fantastic.
"The upgrade of the gym has helped me because I could stay off my feet and still strengthen and get into the same condition I'd be in if I was running.
"They encouraged me to get myself into the right mental state to not only rehab, but to train with the team."
Comparing the two seasons he had out, Ropati felt last year's campaign was the toughest to watch from the sidelines, feeling helpless as the team went on their disastrous eight-game losing streak.
"The year before  when I did my ACL and the team were going so well and made the grand final. It was harder last year because you wanted to help the team out in whatever way you could.
"When you're on the sideline it is so frustrating that you can't be out there, to not only help the team but also to take some of the responsibility and also the blame that the team were getting."
Elliott said he planned to ease Ropati back into the team and won't be putting him on the field for very long in Dunedin.
"There isn't a lot of pressure on Jerome this week, not even to play,' he said.
"So we're going to give him every chance to make sure he's fully confident before he comes back.
"At the moment every indication is that he will get some field time, we just want to get him back on the field, not over expose him and allow him to develop his confidence.
"He is obviously someone that's really important to us, so we don't want to be pushing him this early one after coming back from a couple of pretty serious injuries."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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