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Parramatta centre Willie Tonga has undertaken the most significant off-season transformation of his career, dropping 12 kilograms in four months in a bid to end his horror run of injuries.
Brought to the club from North Queensland in 2012 as a high-profile signing, injuries have restricted Tonga to 16 of a possible 48 games – with just one try – in the past two seasons.
The former Australian and Queensland representative centre peaked at a career-high 107 kilograms last year, a factor he believes contributed to his injury-plagued season of four matches. Under the watch of new coach Brad Arthur, the 30-year-old has dropped more than 11 per cent of his body weight to start 2014 at what he believes is his ideal size.
“I have dropped 12 kilograms from last year,” Tonga said. “For some reason they wanted me to play heavier and I couldn’t carry it. I just didn’t feel comfortable so I said ‘no, I have to get back down’. I’m 95 kilograms now.”
Tonga captained Parramatta at the inaugural Auckland Nines a fortnight ago, showing glimpses of the flashy footwork that earned him representative honours. He hasn’t been able to reach the lofty heights many expected he would at the Eels, but he believes his size hindered his performance.
Tonga has cut back on the amount of time he spent in the gym under former coach Ricky Stuart and has made several adjustments to his diet to ensure his body remains healthy for 2014. “I couldn’t carry it on my knees, on my back – I had major back surgery obviously,” Tonga said. “On all my joints, it just didn’t help. Now it’s the best I’ve felt in years and it’s probably the lightest I’ve been since I was 17. With the Polynesian genetics, if we look at weights we put on weight. We were in the gym doing those max reps and stuff like that trying to bulk up and we didn’t need to to do that.
“I just tweaked a few things like my diet and a couple of things in the gym and my body is feeling awesome. A lot of the boys are asking me what diet I am on and I tell them that I’m not on a diet, I have just changed the way I eat. I used to eat pasta . . . didn’t eat junk food or anything, but I just cut out a few things and the weight just stripped off.”
Fellow centre Jacob Loko has also had his fair share of injuries during his short career. Tonga believes his giant frame has contributed to his lack of game time in recent years. “I remember when I came to the club he [Loko] was only 102 kilos, and that was only a couple of years ago, now he’s up to a 112 kilos,” Tonga said. “I think his knees aren’t going to be able to cope with that – putting on 10-12 kilograms in six months, that’s a lot on your body. These young kids won’t be able to handle it.”