League: Teammates welcome youngster's confidence

By David Skipwith

Talented Tuimoala Lolohea has done enough off the bench to get his first full run against the Sharks

Warriors' coach Andrew McFadden says Tuimoala Lolohea's class and ability see him included in the team to play the Sharks. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Warriors' coach Andrew McFadden says Tuimoala Lolohea's class and ability see him included in the team to play the Sharks. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Ask any of the Warriors players what young rookie Tuimoala Lolohea is like and they'll tell you two things - he has tremendous ability and the confidence to go with it.

The 19-year-old Kelston Boys High product has slotted in off the interchange bench over the past two games against Manly and Canberra, and is set for his first run-on appearance on the wing against the Cronulla Sharks at Mt Smart Stadium tomorrow.

Lolohea played strongly in a dominant team performance against the Raiders and, despite his tender years, has made his presence felt within the team both on and off the field over the past fortnight.

"All kids these days, honestly. I know I sound like an old guy but back when I was coming through we were quiet," halfback Shaun Johnson says with a laugh.

"We'd just go about our business and sort of earn that right to mock one of the older boys but he's [Lolohea] straight in there giving it to anyone and he doesn't really care.

"And that's good, he's coming into the side and we can't afford for him to be shy. So it's good in a way actually, he has to come in, he has to do his job, he has to tell the boys what's going on and where they need to be so it certainly has its ups.

"I'm really excited for him. He's a very confident person. He's certainly a lot more confident than what I was back then. The fact that he can still play 20s and he's playing first grade shows that. He's an exciting talent and I know that if he can just stay disciplined and not get carried away then he's going to be a really good player."

Johnson is one player who knows exactly what Lolohea is going through, after bursting on to the scene as a 20-year-old with tremendous promise back in 2011. The pair have similar skill-sets and playing styles, with dazzling footwork, pace to burn and ball-playing ability, and although they are yet to take the field together because of Johnson's niggling groin injury, all signs point to Lolohea one day linking with him in the halves on a permanent basis.

"Look, I hope so. He's a player I'd love to play with. I know at the moment we've got Chaddy [Townsend] and Tommy [Leuluai] there that are playing really good footy and through this period I think they're exactly what we need, that steady hand and that calming influence," Johnson said. "But Tui's going to get his time to really stamp his mark in the halves and I think that's probably his best position. Having the ball in his hands as much as possible is only going to be beneficial to whatever side he is in."

Against Canberra, Lolohea was required to play a variety of positions as injuries dictated several changes throughout the backline. He showed some good touches, creating a try for Ngani Laumape and providing the last pass for Manu Vatuvei's second four-pointer, and admitted he got a huge thrill after performing well in his first extended on-field stint.

"It was good to move around. It was a good day to play footy and I was quite privileged to be out there with the boys once again," he said. "When I got that ball my intentions weren't on passing it in to Ngani, I was thinking of just taking it on myself, but I saw him sprinting hard-out and I just chucked it and it ended up being on the money.

"I'm still buzzing out about it. It was quite good. A game like that just builds my confidence even more."

Coach Andrew McFadden is careful not to predetermine where Lolohea may find himself fitting in down the track but says his sheer class and ability have demanded his inclusion in the side.

"That's a tough question. At the moment he's got enough class to fit in our side," McFadden said. "Long-term I think he's a half but he could be a fullback, he could be a centre, he could be a winger. I'm not sure, at the moment all I know is he's classy and good enough to be in our squad."

- NZ Herald

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