Tongan finds his feet in Storm

After enduring career-threatening injuries over the past two years Melbourne Storm winger Fifita Moala is starting to graft together a memorable season in a year that looked to be over before it began.

After tearing his anterior cruciate ligament playing for feeder club Brisbane Norths at the end of last season Moala was sidelined for the first 14 weeks of the year and looked like missing out on 2003 all together.

But a strong work ethic coupled with Matt Geyer?s move to five-eighth ? leaving the left wing position vacant - has opened the door for Moala and he has taken his chance collecting six tries from just nine games this year including a double in the Storm?s win over the Dragons last week.

His return to the Storm in late June has coincided with Melbourne?s impressive 7-2 run since round 16 and he has now cemented a place in Craig Bellamy?s side as the club heads towards its first finals series since 2000.

But the road to first grade has been anything but easy for this 22-year-old ? he celebrates his 23rd birthday this weekend - after battling several years plagued by serious injury.

Having literally walked off the street to join Brisbane Norths in 1998 ? he actually thought he was joining a rugby union club - Moala debuted for the Storm in 2000 filling in for the injured Marcus Bai.

He ended up playing ten games that year before tearing his ACL playing for Tonga at the 2000 World Cup and missing much of the 2001 season.

After limited opportunities under mark Murray last year Fifita underwent his second knee reconstruction in as many seasons after tearing his knee up in the final round of the 2002 Queensland Cup season.

The softy spoken Tongan admits to harbouring fears that he wouldn?t get a look in for the Storm this season after his second knee operation.

?I was a bit worried and thought I wasn?t going to play first grade this year because the specialist and the doctor said the last knee injury was worse than the first one,? Moala explained.

?I thought I would play with (feeder club) Brisbane Norths this year and look to next year, so to get the call up this year was really surprising.

?But I?m still building my game back up, I haven?t got my speed completely back and I?m still working on a few things like defence but I?m getting there.?

As one of several Storm youngsters set to enjoy their first taste of finals football this season Moala credits his recent good form to his teammates and the fact that the team as a whole is playing well under coach Bellamy.

?They (tries this season) have just been lucky I think, they have come from playing in a good team and playing outside guys like Matt Orford and Billy Slater has made everything easier,? said Moala who has played 32 matches for the Storm on his way to picking up 20 career tries.

?I?m looking forward to the finals because it will be the first time for me but we are taking each game as it comes - we?re looking to the last home game first.?

If this season isn?t the year Moala stamps his mark on the game it may well be next. With inaugural winger Marcus Bai headed for the English Super League a fulltime wing position is up for grabs.

?Everybody keeps telling me that because Marcus is leaving next year I have a great chance but I?ve just got to play my game and believe in myself,? Moala said.

?I can?t expect it to happen because we have a lot of wingers here at the club and there?s lots of competition so you have to work hard to keep your spot.?