Tongan Terminator: Eel’s face rebuilt after fracture
Parramatta's Manu Ma'u is part man, part metal
His Eels teammates call him The Tongan Terminator.
Ma'u needed three plates inserted into the right side of his face to hold it together after a tackle went horribly wrong during the Pacific Test last June.
"It happened in the international round against Samoa," Ma'u said. "I remember making a tackle on James Gavet and my head went in wrong. I went to tackle him using my right shoulder but he stepped off his left foot and his knee caught the right side of my head."
It takes a lot to rattle the Eels enforcer but he says knew right away something was seriously wrong.
"I remember feeling pain in my face," he said. "When I got up I touched my face and I could feel the bone near my eye just floating. I knew something was wrong when I touched it. I signalled to the trainer saying I have to come off here because something is broken."
Ma'u had shattered his right eye socket and required surgery to put his face back together.
The injury, which some players can return from in as little as four weeks, ended Ma'u's season.
"I had a plate inserted on my eye socket and two plates on my cheekbone, it kind of looks like a triangle holding it all in place," he said.
"I had to wait three months after surgery before I could do anything like weights, because the medical staff didn't want me straining my face."
The extended time off also gave him the chance to repair a niggling shoulder injury and the Tongan international went under the knife again in the off-season to repair some damage to his rotator cuff.
After months of rehab, Ma'u finally received clearance from the team doctor to return to full training two weeks ago.
He admitted to being a little apprehensive about the contact at first given the nature of his facial injury.
"My confidence was shook just a little, knowing that I have plates in my face and because we play such a tough game. There's always a chance I might cop a hit to the face and re-fracture it again," he said.
Ma'u told The Sunday Telegraph he will play his first game of football since June when he takes the field for Parramatta's final trial match against Penrith at Panthers Stadium on March 2.
"I'll just try and get my confidence back up with the trails we have coming up and I'll be ready come round one," he said.
"The last time I played was in June and I feel fresh at the moment. The boys are ripping into me at training and testing out my shoulder too to see how I hold up."
Ma'u hasn't just returned to the paddock with a face full of metal, he's also returned with a head full of hair.
A look unusual for the enforcer, who normally sports a fearsome bald style.
"I just kept it growing and the boys have been calling my head a microphone," Ma'u laughed.
"They've been calling me a microphone and Afroman. I think I'll leave it for now but it will come off eventually."
Every game of every round of the NRL Telstra Premiership LIVE with no ad-breaks during play. SIGN UP NOW!