When Felise Kaufusi runs out onto the field for the Redcliffe Dolphins on Saturday, it will be his first Hostplus Cup game in 2471 days.
The Queensland Maroons enforcer – who has so far missed selection in this year's State of Origin series – last played Cup in September 2016, when he starred for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in their semi-final victory over the Townsville Blackhawks.
He makes his return this weekend for Redcliffe, after Dolphins NRL coach Wayne Bennett relegated Kaufusi and his teammate Tesi Niu to Cup for the clash with last year’s premiers, Norths Devils, at Kayo Stadium.
With Kaufusi playing just seven NRL games this year due to two lengthy suspensions, Redcliffe coach Ben Te’o said it was crucial the veteran forward got some more minutes under his belt, as the Dolphins NRL team enjoy a bye this weekend.
Te’o found out on Tuesday that he would have the services of Kaufusi and Niu in the Cup grand final rematch and said while it was unexpected, it was a welcome opportunity.
“Felise hasn’t played footy for a few weeks,” Te’o said.
“He’s had a disrupted year with suspensions. I’m sure he was waiting on the call for Origin and when you’re not selected, it turns to the fact he needs to play and get some more minutes in.
“It’s a great thing not just for the club but the competition. It shows Wayne respects the competition and it’s a great place for Felise to get some game time and minutes.
“He’s trained with us a couple of times recently and has come with a really good attitude. The boys have loved having him around.”
Te’o said he knows that while the Cup match will serve as a way for Kaufusi to get in some extra game time, it will also provide a chance for the younger members of his squad to watch one of the ultimate professionals of the game and how he prepares.
Kaufusi has played 14 games for Queensland and represented both Australia and Tonga on the international stage, as well as notching up 180 NRL appearances.
“It’s just watching how he goes about things – how he trains, how he prepares for a game,” Te’o said.
“If we have a young kid in our team rubbing shoulders with Felise, it gives them that feeling that, ‘maybe I’m not that too far away, maybe I’m close, and maybe if I keep working at it, I could be there too.’
“That’s the best part about it. For us, it’s about providing that pathway.”
Redcliffe will no doubt be buoyed by the presence of both Kaufusi and Niu as they continue their march up the Hostplus Cup ladder.
After a rocky start to the season, the Dolphins have flexed their muscle over the past two months, winning seven games straight, including victories over fellow top four team, Brisbane Tigers, and competition heavyweights Central Queensland and Sunshine Coast.
They now sit in third on the ladder as they prepare for the 2022 grand final rematch.
Te’o said nothing really changed over the past two months, it was just a matter of everything clicking for his team.
Match: Dolphins v Devils
Round 14 -
Venue: Kayo Stadium, Redcliffe
“You’re always just trying to figure things out,” he said.
“At times results might not go your way but you know you’re on the right path and it’s somewhere in the future.
“At the start of the year we gave guys opportunities and maybe we didn’t get results but we were blooding young players. They’re still with us now and now they’re getting results.
“I’m impressed with some of the guys’ progress as they improve. Cody Hunter’s really stepped up his game. Last year he got a couple of games with Cup but mainly played with me in Colts.
“This year he’s really starting to come into his own in this competition. I’m also very pleased with local juniors like Levi Wilson… each time he’s come back in, he’s improved and each time he’s gone back to Colts, he’s done a good job with them.
“We’ve also brought through Ryan Jackson, Michael Waqa, Ayden Hoad… I’m giving these young guys a go and at some stage they’ll go back but it’s good to get results with them in the team.”
The Redcliffe Dolphins will take on Norths Devils at Kayo Stadium from 5pm.
This match can also be viewed live by subscribing to Qplus.tv.
Main image: Felise Kaufusi with the NRL Dolphins. Photo: Zain Mohammed/NRL Imagery