Dyldam Parramatta Eels centre Willie Tonga says he’s itching to pull on a jersey for the first time in 2014, as he captains the Blue and Gold at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines.
Tonga, who has spent much of the last year recovering from injuries, says he’s feeling fresh and confident about the tournament.
“I’m excited - personally I haven’t played much footy in the last 12 months, so this is a good way to start the year, and I know a lot of the boys are talking about it and are excited as well,,” Tonga said.
“We don’t know what to expect, but all the boys are excited about it.”
Tonga has lost a bit of weight in the pre-season training, and is looking in peak physical condition.
“This is probably the best I’ve been in a long time,” he admits.
“I’ve worked hard and there have been a few changes which have been good for the club, so we’ve got some exciting times to look forward to.”
At the official Auckland Nines captain and coaches breakfast, much of the talk between rival clubs was on tactics - which are still unknown.
“We’re the same, we’ve trained and mucked around a bit during the week about how we’re going to play it, but we’ll watch the few games before us and see how we go,” Tonga said.
“I’m looking forward to watching the big boys run around, Pauli Pauli, and the younger guys like Semi Radradra and Joh Folau in open space.”
The Eels will play the Sydney Roosters in their first game tomorrow, which will see Willie take on league legend, Brad Fittler, who is coming out of retirement.
“He still looks fit, and he’s one of the greats, one of the best players that’s every laced up a boot,” he said.
“So I think he’ll still have it, and no doubt we’ll be all going out to try and give it to him. I’ll put my hand up for the first shot if I can, but we just want to go out there and have fun!”