David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

Tui Lolohea - A journey through the backline

Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors celebrates after scoring a try during the round three NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. Photo / Getty Images.
Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors celebrates after scoring a try during the round three NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Melbourne Storm. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors halves aspirant Tui Lolohea says his shift to fullback won't stop him from playing like an extra half in their Anzac Day clash against the Storm in Melbourne.

After starting the season with six games on the right wing, Lolohea was thrilled when coach Andrew McFadden finally gave the green light for him to play five-eighth in last week's win over Canterbury in Wellington.

However, the shift to No6 was short-lived, after first-choice fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck suffered a season-ending ACL injury and was forced from the field after just 15 minutes.

Lolohea was called on to fill in at the back and made a seamless transition, ensuring the Warriors lost nothing in attacking spark and using his vision and speed out of dummyhalf to score an important second-half try.

The versatile 21-year-old is used to chopping and changing positions, having played in every spot throughout the backline in 33 games since making his NRL debut off the bench in round 20 of the 2014 season.

He made 23 appearances last year, filling in for England international Sam Tomkins in the No1 jersey on 10 occasions, playing six games at halfback following Shaun Johnson's season-ending ankle injury, getting four games at centre, and three games on the flank.

The Marist Saints junior hoped he'd get the chance to make the five-eighth spot his own but insists the return to fullback won't stop him from playing his natural playmaking role closer in to the ruck.

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"That's the big thing for me, I just want to be another halfback playing out the back," he said.

"I only had a short time in the halves and I was feeling comfortable and confident there.

"But I'll stick get the ball in my hands a lot so I'm pretty happy just to be in the spine anyway."

Lolohea told The Herald last month he was frustrated by the lack of attacking chances out on the right wing. He vowed to go looking for more work and made good on that promise with a classy display in the round five golden point win over the Roosters in Gosford.

He laid on a pinpoint infield kick for a Shaun Johnson try in the first half, before defusing an attacking bomb to tear downfield and send Tuivasa-Sheck away for the match-winner in the 81st minute.

That performance added to his already healthy confidence but, he admits, the following week's loss to Manly reinforced the need to be more consistent.

"That Roosters game I had a lot of confidence," he said. "Even towards the back end of the game I had a lot of energy and was willing to get in and do a lot of work. But I didn't have the best performance against Manly and made a couple of errors.

"It was a big focus for me against the Bulldogs to just tighten my game up and I was happy with how things went there."

Ahead of Monday's game at AAMI Park, Lolohea is mindful of the twin kicking threats posed by Melbourne captain Cameron Smith and halfback Cooper Cronk.

Having watched the Storm's 19-18 golden point win over Wests Tigers last Sunday, he knows Smith will be happy to send the ball downfield early in sets to try and put the Warriors on the back foot.

"He (Smith) kicked quite a bit with some play-two kicks and tries to put all the pressure back on you, but I'll be doing my best to get back and return the ball as hard as I can."

After debuting for the Kiwis at halfback in the first test loss to England last October, Lolohea admits he would love another crack, as coach Stephen Kearney considers his fullback options with Tuivasa-Sheck unavailable.

"That's always the goal and the dream. It's always an honour to pull on that black jersey, so if I get selected it's a bonus for me and I'll take every opportunity."

Tui Lolohea - games played in different positions

2014 - Three games:
Two games off the bench
One game on wing

2015 - 23 games:
Three games on wing
Four games at centre
Ten games at fullback
Six games at halfback

2016 - Seven games:
Six games on wing
One game at five-eighth

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