Dene Halatau got some bad news early in 2005 that could have kept him away from one of the most loved rugby league tales of all time.

Season 2005 and the Wests Tigers’ run to their fairy-tale maiden NRL premiership – and ‘that’ flick pass – will forever be part of rugby league folklore, but it was almost over before it began for arguably one of the key cogs in lock Dene Halatau.

At the start of that season, he visited a doctor to talk through his options about a torn rotator cuff. The facts were laid out for him – get the surgery and run the risk of missing the season or committing to a year-long rehab process.

“There was a risk that I could injure it in a pretty bad way. But under the advice of doctors, surgeons, we decided to treat it with rehab and strengthen it,” Halatau said.

“I would go for scans every six weeks to make sure it wouldn’t completely tear and as the year progressed it was basically hanging on by the end. So, I rode it out.”

The magical year for Halatau and his teammates didn’t spark until late in the season. The side wasn’t considered a premiership threat, despite being coached by the great Tim Sheens, and were placed outside of the top 8 for most of the season.

But an eight-game winning streak shored up a shock four finish for the orange and blacks – despite losing their last two regular season games.

: NRL Rugby League, Grand Final, Wests Tigers def North Queensland Cowboys at Sydney Olympic Stadium, Sunday October 2nd 2005. Digital image by John Ng © Action Photographics

With his busted rotator cuff, Halatau played a pivotal role for his team in the penultimate week of the season, as he was awarded man of the match in the Tigers’ surprise 20-12 victory over red hot favourites St George Illawarra in the preliminary final.

Roll on the biggest day in the rugby league calendar and the joint-venture, in just their sixth season, hoisted the Provan-Summons trophy above their heads as Halatau and his teammates beat the Cowboys 30-16.

The joy, the elation and excitement lasted just a week before Halatau went under the knife.

“Just eight days after the grand final me and Benji Marshall got our surgeries at the same time – thankfully I went through that with someone like him,” he said.

“That year, we had really good standards and the accountability we had to each other – it is the best group I was ever apart of. Me being there or not, I was lucky enough to be part of it all.”

Halatau had a whirlwind first few years in first grade when a last-minute debut was handed to him in 2003 against Manly Sea Eagles. Halatau recalled tackling one of the greats, Steve Menzies, in one of his first acts of first grade.

By the end of 2005, Halatau had won a premiership and had been given a start for his country – the New Zealand Kiwis.

“In 2004 I got to play for the Kiwis. I was taken away as a youngster and didn’t really expect to play a game. It was pretty exciting as I got to play a couple matches against England and France,” he said.

“My parents had actually flown over to watch my last game and it was supposed to be a surprise. Well, my cousin called me and asked if I had seen them yet – he blew the surprise.”

Halatau would go on to play 249 matches in first-grade, including four seasons at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs from 2010-2013 and was 18th man for the blue and whites in the 2012 NRL Grand Final loss to Melbourne Storm.

Halatau would return to Tigers from 2014 until his retirement in 2016.

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