NRL: Tommy guns for game time

By Michael Brown

Thomas Leuluai. Photo / By Greg Bowker.
Thomas Leuluai. Photo / By Greg Bowker.

Thomas Leuluai doesn't know how much game time he will get for the Warriors tomorrow but certainly hopes it's significantly more than the three minutes he survived in the last match he played.

The 28-year-old played every minute of every Warriors game last season but strained his groin in the Kiwis' first training session after arriving in the UK for the World Cup. He missed the first two games but attempted to play against Papua New Guinea, lasting only three minutes before coming off in considerable pain.

Leuluai's importance to the Kiwis was highlighted when they had tried to navigate around UK anti-doping regulations by seeking permission from Drug Free Sport New Zealand to use prednisone, a synthetic steroid. Their application was turned down.

Leuluai is even more important to the Warriors and tomorrow will make his return when he comes off the bench against the Wests Tigers in Wellington, the same venue he made his NRL debut as a 17-year-old.

"It feels good,'' Leuluai said of his injury. "I can get through most of the sessions and it's getting stronger every day.

"It's been really frustrating at times but I also think it's been good for me. I have played a lot of football and having a break really freshened me up. I hadn't been out for a while so it really makes you appreciate things when you miss out on playing.''

Leuluai is likely to see most game time at hooker tomorrow but his utility value means he can also slot into the halves and coach Matt Elliott suggested he could even play in the back-row.

"I'm not sure about that,'' Leuluai countered.

A move to hooker was proposed for this season before Nathan Friend was retained and his more likely position will be at five-eighth where he excelled in the second half of last season. It's unlikely to be long before he assumes a starting role.

Assuming he stays fit, Leuluai is expected to play at hooker for the Kiwis in the Anzac test following the shoulder injury to Issac Luke and it's a role he feels comfortable doing.

Last year was a season of contracts for Leuluai. He made a slow start as he adjusted to being back in the NRL after a long stint playing in the UK but was the Warriors' best player in the second half of the season.

There will be many who expect him to make an immediate impact but the player is cautious.

"I'm excited,'' he said. "I haven't felt like this in a long time. I know what I need to do and coming off the bench is a little easier for me. I'm going to keep it quite simple first up. Making sure I don't let anyone down is my main goal.

"I don't think it will be as hard to get up to speed as it was last year. I know a lot of people talk about the start of my season and I copped the brunt of it, as I should. When I look back it was quite embarrassing, really, but we weren't playing well as a team. It was hard for anyone to play well.

"I simplified my game and did what I do best. I found out what worked for me over here and what works for the team. I worked hard and played to my strengths.''

There's a fair amount of anticipation around Leuluai's combination with fullback Sam Tomkins, not least of all from the two individuals.

"We have chucked in a couple of plays that we used to use back in Wigan,'' he said. "It will be interesting to see how they go.''

There will be a few obstacles. The Warriors will come up against a Wests Tigers team who tipped over the Rabbitohs last weekend and will also try to win their first game in Wellington at their seventh attempt.

Warriors side to play Wests Tigers at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday (5pm): Sam Tomkins, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Ben Matulino, Jayson Bukuya, Simon Mannering (c), Sione Lousi. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Suaia Matagi, Konrad Hurrell, Thomas Leuluai.

- APNZ

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