England winger Joe Cokanasiga says he is in better shape for World Cup

England winger Joe Cokanasiga says he is in better shape for World Cup

Joe Cokanasiga is ready for a second tilt at the World Cup having found the ‘why’ behind his England career.

Cokanasiga was present in Japan four years ago, only for a knee injury to limit him to a single appearance against the USA.

While he crossed twice on that humid afternoon in Kobe, he spent much of the tournament hobbling around with a heavy brace on his damaged joint.

Having recovered from that setback, a second serious knee problem then struck the giant Bath wing of Fijian heritage, but the greatest challenge of all came off the pitch.

While his mum Kitty was struck down by a cancerous brain tumour that needed chemotherapy and two surgeries, his father Ilaitia was barred from re-entering the UK despite having served in the British Army for 14 years.

Since those dark days Kitty has made a full recovery and Ilaitia has been granted indefinite leave to remain, but it was during the crisis that their 25-year-old son began looking inwards for the answers needed to realise his potential.

“I’ve been doing a lot more mindfulness work, discovering my ‘why’,” said Cokanasiga, who has been included in a 41-man training squad for the World Cup.

“I worked with (performance psychologist) Katie Warriner and the why was the one thing I struggled with.

“It’s a long process, going through my whole life from when I was born, how I grew up. My why has always been there, it’s just been about tapping into it.

Joe Cokanasiga at work during England's World Cup training camp
Joe Cokanasiga being put through his paces at England’s World Cup training camp this week (Nick Potts/PA)

“My why is always my family, but you forget that you play for yourself as well. I always play for young Joe who wanted to play in a World Cup.

“I think back to the 2015 World Cup when I was a mascot for Fiji in that first game against England, standing there and thinking ‘I want to do this, I want to play at Twickenham’.

“I like to think back and play for the young Joe and it’s having the right balance, but family will always be my why.

“The mindfulness has helped me a lot, especially during this summer. It has made me more determined and hungry for it.

“I’ve been doing lot of breathing exercises. One thing I got into was journaling before I sleep – after a big week of training having a nice debrief, or just writing down before games. That helped me a lot.”

Apart from his efforts to continue shining a light on the plight of Commonwealth serviceman denied entry to the UK, the 6’4” Cokanasiga has been busy making the lifestyle changes needed to take full advantage of his physical attributes.

Shackling his sweet tooth has resulted in 11lbs being shed and the 14-cap international is determined to end the yo-yoing in and out of the England team caused by injury and form.

“I’ve been getting my body into the right shape. I lost a few kilos, which for me is hard to do in the off-season,” Cokanasiga said.

“My girlfriend Rosie put me on a strict regime. So less sweets, no snacking at night, avoid drinking. Squashies or Haribos were my weakness! They can sponsor me if they want…

“Towards the end of the season I was 117-118kg, but now I’m 113-114. I feel I can run – it’s better for my joints, my knees.

“Mentally I’ve been a lot more driven to try. It’s like this is my shot, being in and out of squad this was my opportunity to get in so I needed to do everything I could.”