While the Western Force encountered a tough season in 2012, one player whose stocks were enhanced was outside back Alfie Mafi.
After four seasons competing at the top provincial level, Mafi played each of the Western Australian side's 16 matches, adjusting superbly to his new role of fullback and finishing the season as the side's top try scorer.
Mafi said it was a blend of experience and an uninterrupted pre-season that culminated in a successful Super Rugby year – a winning combination that he's looking to build on in the lead-up to the Western Force's first Super Rugby match in Melbourne on Friday, February 15.
"I think I matured a little bit [last season]," he said. "I'm 24 now and I've been around since I was 17 and I hadn't really had a good pre-season where I wasn't injured. Last year I went into the proper season without any niggles or setbacks and I think that's a reason why I had a good season.
"I'm feeling fit at the moment – possibly the fittest I've been in at least the past five years. I feel like I'm in good shape, I've trimmed down a little bit. I can probably put a bit of weight on but I think that will come during the season when there's a bit less training and some more eating."
While his performances at fullback demonstrated a utility value for the fearless running flyer, Mafi says it's his more accustomed position on the wing that he'll be looking to make his own in 2013.
"I enjoyed playing fullback but I'm a wing and prefer to be on the wing," he said. "I like having space out wide or linking with my ‘10' on the inside.
"Playing fullback helped me understand how ‘15' plays. I now know what to expect from a ‘15' but before that I didn't really understand how they played or where they were at set piece.
"Having an understanding of where my fullback's going to be most of the time lets me run off him or be able to support him and get an offload from him."
Now part of a significantly revamped backline, Mafi is buoyed by the overhauled brand of rugby the Western Force will roll out in 2013.
With the Force largely unable to capitalise on the possession they won in 2012, the side has a renewed focus on utilising the ball this season.
And with Head Coach Michael Foley keen to play a style of rugby ‘that players enjoy playing and fans enjoy watching', the new approach has definitely struck a chord with his Tongan-born wing.
"If we get more ball, we'll definitely score more tries," Mafi said. "We've got a lot of very different players in our backline and a lot of depth. We've got guys from different cultures who bring a lot of character to this backline. It's going to be exciting to see what we can do as a backline. We've got a number of guys with good offloads or good running lines and experience overseas and that's really exciting for us this year."
The Western Force will play two pre-season trials against the Brumbies in Darwin (Friday, February 1) and Tonga Select XV in Mandurah (Friday, February 8) before kicking off their Super Rugby season against the Rebels on Friday, 15 February.
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