In a season where injuries and suspensions have wreaked havoc with squads up and down the Betfred Super League, Mahe Fonua has been one of the few players who has so far managed to be ever-present for his club.
The Castleford Tigers three-quarter has featured in all 23 regular-season games for the team so far in 2022 since joining from Hull FC over the winter and is set to extend that run away to Huddersfield Giants on Thursday evening, live on Sky Sports.
Being reunited with his former Black and Whites head coach Lee Radford at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle has helped Fonua settle into life in West Yorkshire and play a big part on Castleford’s play-off push, although he admits it took him some time to adjust even with being one of the first names of the team sheet.
Huddersfield Giants vs Castleford Tigers
August 18, 2022, 7:30pm
“In the more recent weeks and games, I think it’s showed a bit more in my football,” Fonua told Sky Sports on a media call ahead of Thursday’s trip to the Giants.
“It took a couple of weeks at the start of the year to get through that teething stage, but the reason I wanted to come and play under Radders again is because he shows me that faith and that confidence.
“He’s stuck through me through that little rough patch, but I think I’ve come out of the other end and I’m playing some decent footy.
“I always wanted to find that form again and I knew coming to Lee Radford, he’d be able to help me find that.”
This is the 29-year-old from Melbourne’s third time working under Radford, having been part of his Hull FC squads which lifted the Challenge Cup in 2016 and 2017 and then re-signing in 2020 after spending two seasons back in the NRL with Wests Tigers.
Recruited by Radford during the winter after being released from his Hull FC contract with a year remaining, Fonua has impressed the 43-year-old with the newfound levels of consistency he has produced in 2022.
“I felt we got ourselves a real bargain and one of the compliments I can pay Mahe is this year he’s gone from being eight out of 10 or three out of 10 to really levelling that up,” Radford told Sky Sports during his pre-Huddersfield press conference.
“He’s been really consistent for us week in, week out, so that shows some consistency off-field and in his preparation as well. It might be an age thing and maturity as well, but he’s been really strong for us this year.
“He’s got a bit more consistency away from rugby and he’s reaping the rewards of that, as are we.”
For his part, Fonua puts is more consistent displays down to a new psychological approach he has adopted off-field, albeit one which has its roots in a personal tragedy.
The loss of a close friend led to the former Tonga international, with the help of his wife and Castleford’s club welfare officer, to seek ways to maintain a positive mindset and he is in no doubt he is feeling the benefits.
“The reason I dipped into mental health and wellbeing, last December one of my best mates had taken his life and that put me in a bad way,” Fonua said.
“I’m thankful to my wife for reaching out to our welfare officer who put me in touch with the right people. It’s unfortunate something good has to come out of a tragedy, but had my wife not taken that step for me I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am now.
“There are little tasks I go through daily which help me keep a positive mindset and attitude, and that’s what helps me get through my days and just appreciate being in the now and being grateful for what I have around me every day.”
On the pitch, Castleford sit fifth in Super League with four games of the regular season remaining after defeating Catalans Dragons 18-8 at home last Friday and victory over third-placed Huddersfield would take them a big step closer to securing a place in the play-offs.
Fonua and his Tigers team-mates are well aware the likes of Salford Red Devils, who beat the Giants last week, and Leeds Rhinos are hot on their heels too, but they are trying their best not to worry about what is happening elsewhere as the regular season reaches its climax.
“It’s very tight-knit,” Fonua said. “Two wins or two losses can send you either way, so we’re happy to take confidence out of that win and hopefully roll into Huddersfield with that form.
“It’s at the back of our minds how tight the table is, but we’re more trying to focus on ourselves and if we can gather up as many wins as we can then there’s nothing else to worry about.
“Thankfully, the position we’re sitting in at the moment, we don’t have to worry about too many results other than our own.”
Huddersfield Giants: Ricky Leuetele, Tui Lolohea, Theo Fages, Chris Hill, Danny Levi, Michael Lawrence, Chris McQueen, Luke Yates, Matty English, Joe Greenwood, Owen Trout, Adam O’Brien, Oliver Wilson, Leroy Cudjoe, Louis Senior, Olly Russell, Innes Senior, Nathan Mason, Sam Hewitt, Toby King.
Castleford Tigers: Derrell Olpherts, Jordan Turner, Jake Mamo, Bureta Faraimo, Danny Richardson, Paul McShane, George Lawler, Kenny Edwards, Joe Westerman, George Griffin, Mahe Fonua, Alex Sutcliffe, Daniel Smith, Greg Eden, Cheyse Blair, Brad Martin, Sam Hall, Gareth O’Brien, Cain Robb, Jason Qareqare, Alex Mellor.