Ukuma Ta’ai, a defence-wrecking Tongan second-row who has become a fans’ favourite with Huddersfield Giants, believes he is in his best shape since first arriving in the UK in February 2013.
That spells bad news for beleaguered opponents who already struggled to contain the 28-year-old’s explosive style last term.
Certainly, there was few more exhilarating sights than the 16 stone forward rampaging around – “they think I’m angry but that’s just the way I play” – scattering opposition players like skittles.
Ta’ai bust 61 tackles in Super League but has trimmed down further ahead of the 2015 opener against Hull FC in a fortnight’s time and is now anticipating even greater rewards.
“This is the first time I’ve done a full pre-season with the team after two years here,” he told The Yorkshire Post, owing to his initial move from New Zealand Warriors being delayed due to visa problems and then his participation in the 2013 World Cup.
“I think last year I did well and it was my best so far but not as good as I reckon I’ll do this time.
“I know how hard I have trained, my body weight is going down as well and I’m looking forward to doing something really impressive even better than last year. After this pre-season I feel good, fit, strong and think I’m going to do more – run even harder.”
Ta’ai is, undoubtedly, unrecognisable to the player who first appeared for Huddersfield two years ago when head coach Paul Anderson said he joined looking “bigger than a Christmas turkey”.
His debut lasted just 15 minutes and he was given an intensive training schedule and not picked again for four weeks.
Ta’ai improved as the year went on and helped Giants to the League Leaders Shield but it was last season when he really impressed, scoring 10 tries in his 27 games and seeing only Eorl Crabtree make more than his 322 carries. Given he is in the final year of his three-year deal, he now intends to improve further.
“I really enjoy England and the lifestyle here,” he added. “It’s really different to back home in New Zealand and a new place where I can learn new experiences – I’d never seen snow before coming here. As for a new contract, you never know but let’s see at the beginning of the year.”
It is at the end of the year where Giants fans become most agitated and the club’s habitual failure to reap dividends in the play-offs.
Ta’ai admitted: “We made a few little mistakes last time but, hopefully, this year we can go better and actually win the comp’.”