Friday 11 January 2013 3:19 PM
Lagi Setu didn't know Melbourne Storm won last year's title until he received an email from his brother two days after the grand final.
But what Setu did know - painfully well - was the club's merciless reputation for flogging new recruits during pre-season training. And that alone made him extremely nervous.
The former Dragons and Broncos forward had spent the previous two years on a Mormon mission in the UK with limited contact to Australia, no television and, most crucially, zero training apart from riding a bicycle between door knocks.
He touched down in Brisbane on 10 October - two days before his rugby league reincarnation began.
"I was dreading my first day," the 24-year-old said.
"I knew I had no training behind me for two years.
"I was carrying a bag of boots instead of The Book Of Mormon. I just thought it would be an orientation day, but I was so wrong.
"We did wrestling, weights and fitness checks and all sorts of things.
"My lungs went into complete shock.
"I found myself with a lot of fat after the skin-fold tests. It was a shock for me as well as the club.
"I thought, 'This is going to make or break me'."
Since farewelling the NRL after 64 top-grade appearances at the end of 2010, Setu had discovered spiritual and emotional serenity in the west midlands.
Returning to the seething cauldron of professional football was not contemplated until late 2011, when his manager inquired about a comeback.
By then Setu had blown out 13kg above his old playing weight of 102 - not through dietary neglect but a complete absence of intense training required to keep him in shape.
"If you know Polynesians, it doesn't take us much to put on weight - even when we're not eating that much junk food," Setu said. "To lose a kilogram is massive for us, so when I went on the mission I knew I was about to explode.
"My body started feeling really out of shape because I didn't think about it at all.
"I was just focused on the people and my calling.
"But toward the end I thought about it a lot and decided I wanted to give rugby league another crack.
"Deep down, I couldn't lie. I wanted to come back."
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Within a fortnight of arriving at AAMI Park, Setu began to have second thoughts. Sharing a flat with fellow 2013 recruit Junior Sa'u, he would wake with aching bones and long for the simple peace of religious contemplation.
"There were days I would go, 'Oh man, do I really want to do this?'," he said.
"I just wanted to pack up, go home and study.
"It was such a shock going from being relaxed on my mission to tackling huge blokes like Jason Ryles and Jessie Bromwich.
"My body wasn't ready for it, but I would've been lying to myself if I gave up.
"What ended up pushing me to keep going were the people I met in the UK.
"I know it was a different situation, but they had a willingness to change and I took that into consideration. They put the effort in and saw results, like I had to."
This untravelled path back to the top has also been a learning experience for Melbourne's football staff.
In decades of massaging footballers back to playing condition, former NSW Origin and Australian physio Tony Ayoub has never encountered one so unprepared for the physical torture synonymous with each summer.
According to Ayoub, even professional athletes can be reduced to quivering wrecks in just two years because neuro-muscle memory can't recall how to tolerate such extreme punishment.
"The body changes when it's sedentary for so long, so his body is always very sore," Ayoub said.
"For my first three weeks I was seeing him four and five times a week, working on various niggles that keep arising. He has needed to understand that it will probably take his body six months just to adapt to the training itself.
"Then there's the contact in a game. That will probably take another six months to get used to getting bashed on a weekly basis."
Assistant coach David Kidwell indicated Setu would get his first taste in a trial against Brisbane Easts on February 2, and hasn't ruled out including the Samoan international in the Storm's World Club Challenge squad.
And Parramatta officials - who are preparing for Will Hopoate's return from a Mormon mission this October - might also be reading all this with interest, having outlaid millions to sign the former NSW star.
Fittingly, Setu and Hopoate caught up at Xmas.
Read the full story on dailytelegraph.com.au here