John Zebelon Taia is your modern day rugby league backrower. At 6 foot 1 and 110 kilograms, Zeb Taia could be that extra ingredient that Wayne Bennett and his Newcastle Knights need to really be a force in 2012.
Taia isn’t a new face at the Knights and wont get the media attention that the likes of new boys Darius Boyd and Kade Snowden will soak up. But Taia is that dangerous x-factor that coaches fear.
Since signing with the Knights from Parramatta in 2007, Taia has played 78 games. Not a bad effort from a guy who couldn’t get a run at the Eels.
For all intents and purposes, 2011 was to be Zeb’s breakout year. After playing for New Zealand and captaining the Cook Islands in 2010, the Enfield Federals junior was set to rock the National Rugby League.
But rugby league has a funny way of putting you back in your place. Just when you think your star is on the rise, injury brings you back to earth.
Round Four 2011 was a big day for Newcastle. It was the Knights return to AusGrid stadium against the defending premiers. Nothing bigger than a Sunday afternoon blockbuster against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
His neck injury was so bad that doctors told the hulking backrower that he may have to retire. Earth shattering news for any professional football player.
Taia is ready for 2012.
“My neck is feeling good. It hasn’t been tested much since I played in the finals but I am glad I got that game in and I am really confident that I can go through and do the pre-season without worrying about my first game back” Taia said.
After missing the majority of the season, Taia made a shock return for week one of the Finals series against the Storm in Melbourne. Taia didn’t retire and he didn’t give up on 2011. He came back and played when many others would have just been focusing on 2012.
“It was a great feeling. Stoney (Rick Stone) told me during the week and I had to keep it quiet and I was happy to do that. I didn’t want the media to put any pressure on me for my first game back” Taia said of his shock return last season.
“It felt amazing to do my first tackle and hit up and I was so grateful to be playing and doing what I love”.
Taia has had his injuries and paid his dues. He knows as well as anyone that only hard work can get you back to where you want to be. Now its all coming together for the former Eel.
“The off-season was good; I ended up going to Fiji. I got married two years ago and it was like a belated honeymoon for my wife Nikki and I and we enjoyed having a very nice and relaxing holiday”.
Now 2012 is just around the corner and Taia can taste it.
This article was originally posted on thebigtip.com.au on the 25-11-11