Luck hasn't been Kieran Foran's friend since he left Manly after 2015, but the five-eighth is back where it started on the Northern Beaches and hoping to find top form.
Frequent injuries have unfortunately restricted the New Zealand international to 66 matches over the past five years across stints at the Eels (2016), Warriors (2017) and Bulldogs (2018-20).
Foran's wretched run has included shoulder, toe, ankle, pectoral and soft tissue issues. But he's still only 30 ahead of his birthday in July – younger than halfback Daly-Cherry Evans, who is 32 this month.
He hasn't played finals football since 2014, but a fit Foran's skills are still apparent. He earned a Kiwis call-up at the end of 2019 (only to injure his shoulder upon Test return) and was Canterbury's 2020 Player of the Year despite featuring in just 14 games.
And, as we'll dive into below, the playmaker's recent statistical output has remained strong despite lacking top-tier support.
Foran could rekindle his 2011 premiership-winning halves partnership with Cherry-Evans, while he understands Des Hasler's coaching style having played under him extensively and successfully.
There was initially talk that Foran may play hooker, but a recent Cherry-Evans interview with Fairfax Media, in which he spoke of how Foran would "free me up", suggested they will link at the scrum-base.
"One thing that still exists between us when we're the No.6 and No.7 is we don't care which side of the ruck the ball has to go to, as long as it goes the right way," Cherry-Evans told the Sydney Morning Herald.
"We never cared who got the credit, as long as the team was winning. That's all that mattered, and it's still the same."
Numbers don't tell the full story, but Foran statistically improved in a few areas from his first Manly stint while at Canterbury.
The pivot averaged 69 metres per game over six years and 147 matches for the Sea Eagles; he averaged 73 metres per game in three seasons and 40 matches as a Bulldog, including 83 metres per game in 2020.
Last year was his second-best season on that front, only surpassed by the 99.15 metres he averaged in 2015.
Receipts – the amount of times a player handles the ball – weren't recorded when Foran began his NRL career in 2009, but he averaged 42.8 per game from 2013-15 and 41.9 per game from 2018-20.
His missed tackle rate at Manly was 2.7 per game, whereas it dropped to 2.4 per game during his time with Canterbury.
Why Cherry-Evans can’t wait to reunite with Foran
And Foran averaged slightly more try-assists per game for the Bulldogs than the Sea Eagles – 0.57 compared to 0.56 (23 try assists in total for Canterbury; 83 for Manly).
Of course, it could be argued that Sea Eagles star Cherry-Evans took potential try assists away from Foran, but he also had fewer attacking weapons around him in a struggling Bulldogs team.
Foran had 12 try assists in 14 matches last year – his biggest season haul since 2015 – at a rate of 0.85 per game.
Sea Eagles in 2021
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His fitness is another topic, but these figures suggest that Foran is far from a spent force in first-grade. If his body holds up, he could be primed for a very happy homecoming in 2021.