David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Andrew McFadden defends decision to bench Tui Lolohea

Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors. Photo / Getty
Tuimoala Lolohea of the Warriors. Photo / Getty

Warriors coach Andrew McFadden has defended his decision to start wing Jonathan Wright ahead of Tui Lolohea and says there are areas of the young rookie's game that need improvement.

McFadden make the shock change before kickoff in Saturday night's 19-18 golden point NRL loss to Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium, with Lolohea demoted to the bench to see David Fusitu'a take over the fullback role, and Wright promoted from reserve grade to start on the right wing.

Despite scoring the Warriors second try, Wright had a forgettable outing in which he also fumbled a loose ball in the lead-up to Sharks wing Ricky Leutele's try before halftime, and dropped a pass to blow a certain four-pointer early in the second-half.

McFadden is aware his decision has left people scratching their heads but says there remain facets of Lolohea's defensive game that require attention, while he had confidence the versatile Fusitu'a would provide more value at fullback.

"There's been things that I've been seeing in Tui's game in the last three weeks that we haven't liked and Tui's well aware of that," McFadden told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.

"The other reason is David Fusitu'a, in his two showings at fullback previous to this game, has done a really good job and we just felt that we probably looked a touch better particularly defensively with David at fullback and Tui hasn't had a lot of practice on the wing.

"We know how good Tui is and it won't be long before he's back in the side that's for sure but it's a decision we felt we needed to make for the team and Tui."

Lolohea has been one of the Warriors best this season, playing wing and five-eighth before taking over the No1 jersey to cover the absence of the injured Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

The 21-year-old is one of the most potent attackers in the NRL with a brilliant running and passing game but at times in his 39 first grade appearances has lacked urgency in defensive situations close the line.

Wright last appeared in the Warriors round 11 defeat to Canberra in New Plymouth after which the side enjoyed a three-match winning run with Manu Vatuvei, Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo all preferred wing options ahead of the 29-year-old.

McFadden is aware that Wright is perceived as having limited attacking ability but felt some of the criticism directed towards him was off the mark.

Jonathan Wright has come in for criticism following a mized outing in Saturday's 19-18 loss to Cronulla. Photo / Getty Images.
Jonathan Wright has come in for criticism following a mized outing in Saturday's 19-18 loss to Cronulla. Photo / Getty Images.

The former Eels, Bulldogs and Sharks finisher is viewed as a stable contributor, with mistakes often overshadowing his role in the side.

Rather than blame Wright for bombing a try that would have reclaimed the lead for the Warriors, he believed centre Blake Ayshford had contributed to the mistake.

"It's a little unfair," he said. "I've heard a bit of the criticism around some of the errors he made, particularly the one where we really butchered a try, but to be fair to Jonathan, the ball was behind and high on him. And when you're running flat-stick trying to go for the corner, that's the last place you want the ball delivered.

"So I put that down to Blake Ayshford more than Jonathan there but he probably had an unhappy night.

"But he does provide a really solid performance for us generally and he's not the flashiest player but he does do a lot of good stuff for the team and the team does recognise that as well."

The loss saw the Warriors drop to currently occupy 11th spot on the NRL ladder, and now look ahead to next Saturday's home match against the Gold Coast.

Intrigue will surround the make-up of the Warriors outside backs when the team to face the Titans is announced on Tuesday, with Vatuvei a chance of returning from a hamstring strain that has kept him sidelined over the last two weeks.

- NZ Herald

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