Ahead of Friday’s blockbuster clash against the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers, Storm’s forward stocks have been boosted with Eliesa Katoa named to make his second appearance off the bench after successfully returning from injury against the Eels last week.
It was a six-week return to play for Katoa, having undergone retinal surgery and having a gas ball inserted into his eye after suffering a tear at the top of his retina back in Round 15.
Despite the lengthy absence, Katoa quickly hit the ground running in his return, playing 55 minutes and scoring a try.
Storm will be hoping Katoa can build off last week’s solid outing as the club looks to avoid back-to-back losses to Penrith in the regular season, something they haven’t suffered since 2005.
Katoa didn’t feature for Storm in that Round 18 34-16 loss to the Panthers, with the 23-year-old's inclusion a welcome boost to Craig Bellamy’s side after establishing himself as a key player on Storm’s right edge earlier in the season.
Speaking with media ahead of Friday’s clash, Katoa said that given the delicate nature of the injury, recovery was a slow and difficult process.
“I think it was Round 15 got poked in the eye and had a scratch on the eyeball but when I went and saw them they said it’s getting worse so had to go have surgery,” Katoa said.
“For the whole week, I had to lie down...I had to use a massage table faced down for a week and couldn’t leave my room and just lay on the table,” he said.
“I used to go on my phone and put my arm under the table and watch my phone, I also had to sleep like that 24/7,” he said.
After establishing himself as a key cog in the Storm forward pack, Katoa said the forced absence meant he had to work even harder on his fitness to ensure he was ready to go upon his return.
“They initially thought it would probably settle down in a week but it just got worse and I had to have surgery...it took six weeks (to recover)," he said.
“I was back to training 3 weeks ago, it sorta felt like I was starting from pre-season again, but I’m just happy and glad to be back playing with the boys on a weekend,” he said.
Even surprising himself with the number of minutes played in his return, Katoa said he was glad to get through his first game back unscathed and is now looking forward to helping his side rise to the occasion on Friday night.
“At some points I was gassed but the boys helped me do my role and I’m just happy to be back, didn’t expect to play so much, I played 55 minutes I think which was pretty big but feel sweet after that,” he said.
“I’m excited about the challenge, I didn’t play last time we met them, they’re a quality side they are top of table for a reason,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge for us but I think the boys are looking forward to it.”
You can watch Katoa in action when Storm face the Penrith Panthers at BlueBet Stadium on Friday night.