They may have saved his neck – literally – but Gold Coast forward Zeb Taia admits he will have a “fire in his belly” against ex-NRL club Newcastle in their season opener.
Taia was relieved to be available for the first round after escaping suspension for a spear tackle on South Sydney’s Greg Inglis in last weekend’s trial loss.
But Taia admitted he would be going through a whole lot more emotions before running out against Newcastle at home on March 6.
The former Kiwi Test backrower says he owes his career to the Knights after they organised revolutionary neck surgery for him in 2011.
“I will try to control my emotions because it was a club that made me who I am today,” Taia said.
“They fixed me up with (what I thought was) a career ending injury.
“I have a soft spot for the club. I might even move back there after my career.
“When I saw the draw I got a bit of a fire in the belly to get myself up for that game.”
Coincidentally Newcastle sent Taia to the Gold Coast back in 2011 for cutting edge surgery which replaced his C5-6 and C6-7 discs with titanium alloy, making him feel “bionic”.
“Back then it was pretty scary thinking I couldn’t play again,” Taia said on Tuesday.
“The Knights fixed me up, got me playing again.”
Taia played at Newcastle from 2007-12 before getting the tap on the shoulder from Wayne Bennett and relocating to English Super League’s Catalans Dragons.
“There were no hard feelings,” said Taia who linked with Gold Coast this season.
“Wayne was awesome to me that year (2012), taught me a lot about being a footballer.”
Taia cut a relieved figure at Titans training on Tuesday after escaping sanction with an early guilty plea for a grade one dangerous throw charge.
“I was getting myself ready to miss the first two games,” he said.
“When someone like that (Inglis) is running at you, you have to put a lot of intent into the tackle.
“I thought it was going to be an easy go low tackle but all his body weight went over the top of me while I was driving and ended up in an awkward position.
“I am just stoked I get to play next week.”
Meanwhile, the Titans are sweating on an update for Brian Kelly after he suffered a suspected knee injury at training.
Kelly and Nathan Davis looked poised to snap up centre vacancies created by Josh Hoffman and Nene Macdonald (both knee).