Fetongi Tuinauvai will make his long-awaited return to the Group 9 competition on Saturday when lining up for the Tumut Blues against the Temora Dragons.
The 32-year-old, who has been named on the wing, has not been seen since he was outed for 28 weeks after being found guilty of a serious grade striking charge for punching Temora’s Paul Ferguson when playing for Wagga Kangaroos during a fiery clash against the Dragons back in 2019.
The suspension was initially reduced to 21-weeks due to his early guilty plea, and upon appeal by the Wagga Kangaroos, the suspension was further reduced to 10 weeks.
As a result of his suspension, Tuinauvai missed the remainder of 2019, and because he wasn’t registered to play rugby league in 2020, he was forced to sit out the first six Blues games of the 2021 competition.
A remorseful Tuinauvai said the incident was out of character and it wouldn’t happen again.
“I’ve played for over 10 years, and that is the only big incident to happen through my years,” Tuinauvai said.
“It is one of those things that happened in the heat of the moment, it was out of character, and there is no excuse for that to happen.”
The former Roo now wants to put the incident behind him, as he focuses on a return to the paddock and a chance to play with his cousin, Tevita Aroha-Tuinauvai.
“I’m confident, really confident, and I’m ready to have a run and get back into it,” Tuinauvai said.
“I’m just pretty keen to play with my cousin Tolo (Aroha-Tuinauvai). I haven’t really played with him before, so I want to have some fun and give it a good go with him.”
Tuinauvai is fit and firing for some rugby league, having travelled to Portugal and played rugby in 2020, which then ended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The talented outside back then returned home for a stint with CSU Reddies late last season in the Southern Inland Rugby Union competition, and has trained and played with the Wagga club during the early stages of 2021 in a bid to make himself ready for his tenure with the Blues.
“I’ve been playing rugby union. I was over in Portugal playing last year and came back due to Covid, and when I came back here, I thought I would come back to union. But when I found out my cousin was playing with Tumut, that made me keen to link up with the Blues,” Tuinauvai said.
“I have been helping out the rugby union team (Reddies) and working on my ball skills and I’ve been up there, running and doing field work. I’ve kept up my fitness.
“I’ve had two games with the Reddies, just to test out my lungs because as people know, field fitness is different. But I feel pretty good.”
Tuinauvai also runs a boxing gym in Wagga, and he is looking forward to taking the gloves off on Saturday, although his work has kept him in tip top shape ahead of his rugby league return.
“I’ve been running ‘Teed Up Fitness’ for probably just less than a year and my focus is mainly on boxing fitness, boxing technique, boxing classes and fitness in general,” Tuinauvai said.
“We do a bit of circuit training, which is good, and we get a lot of footy teams and they come in and do some training group classes.
“I also do boxing combinations and one-on-one training, which trains the mind too, so I have been working and training pretty hard and I feel really good and I’m ready to go.”
The damaging outside back will be joining the Blues for his third stint, having first signed with the club back in 2012 and again in 2018, and now he has his sights on a Group 9 premiership.
“Winning a premiership and playing with my cousin were the main reasons I wanted to play, and especially with Tumut, they are good all around the field, they are structured and I can’t wait to play,” Tuinauvai said.
“I will probably bring more experience in the backs, and a lot of hard carries – I love taking a lot of hit-ups, which helps out the forwards and I know I can bring a few things.”
Tuinauvai will train with the Blues on Friday, having already spent time with the playing group, and will be thrown into the deep end on Saturday, starting in a side that is battling with multiple injury concerns.