Wests Tigers forward Josh Aloiai is hoping a change of injury fortune is within reach after extensive and unique hand surgery in the off-season.
Four years after playing through his debut season with a broken scaphoid, Aloiai underwent a procedure in October to correct a screw that gradually loosened inside his hand from previous surgeries.
The setback left the 24-year-old in discomfort and ended his season prematurely as the team pushed for a finals berth in 2019.
"It was a shooting pain because the screw had gone into my wrist joint," Aloiai told NRL.com.
"It wasn't something you could needle because the positioning of it. I'd get pain after a game and throughout the week.
"I was carrying it for quite a long time and just got to a point where it needed to be fixed."
Dragons v Wests Tigers - Round 1
Aloiai met with Sydney wrist and hand surgeon Peter Scougall to go through his options after multiple unsuccessful surgeries.
"I got a rib graft done, where they took a bit of rib out and cartilage to use it to reconstruct my hand," Aloiai said.
"It was a bit daunting and was a full-on operation but I just wanted it fixed and it's turned out really good now and my hand has been the best it's felt for 18 months.
"I'm finally at a point where it's not giving me any problems and I'm going into a season injury-free."
Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire wasted no time in naming Aloiai to start at prop for Sunday's season opener against St George Illawarra in Wollongong.
A report in the off-season which referred to the joint venture having one of the weaker forward packs in the competition had stung the Samoan international.
"We've got a chip on our shoulder about it," Aloiai said.
"There's been heaps of negative talk about us and that's great. The good thing about that is every week we take the pitch we have an opposing forward pack to prove everyone else wrong.
"We'd love nothing more than to show that outside noise is wrong. There's no other way that this year can go than for us to make the finals.
"In my mind there's no other option, we have to be in the eight and have to do everything in our power to make it happen."