End looming for Lolohea at Warriors: Which team could use him?

After recently announcing the appointment of Stephen Kearny as their head coach for 2017, today the New Zealand Warriors CEO Jim Doyle publicly declared that multi-premiership winning five-eighth Kieran Foran has also signed with the club.

The acquisition is a wonderful coup for a side, who will now feature the entire spine of the New Zealand test side in their starting 17 in Roger-Tuivasa Sheck, Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and the newly-acquired Foran. This leaves no room for a certain individual with a big future, who found himself bouncing in and out of first grade this season: Tui Lolohea;

After RTS suffered an season-ending injury earlier in the year, Lolohea entered into a bit of a fullback rodeo with David Fusitua, who ousted him for the main job toward the end of the season. He also spent a bit of time in the halves and with Shaun Johnson penning an article for Fox Sports back in July where he claimed “he [Lolohea] will be playing alongside me in the halves next season. You heard it here first.” Tui’s fate across the Tasman looked sealed, but Rugby League’s a funny game and the gods love to troll us from time to time.

To secure his immediate future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lolohea respectfully ask for a release, and who are the Warriors to stand in his way? I’m adamant that Lolohea is a passionate New Zealander and clubman, but a kid with his talent could very easily find a spot in an NRL side looking for a playmaker — and boy, there is definitely interest in this prospect. Parramatta were reportedly targeting him, ironically as a replacement for the man who may’ve just ended his stint with the Warriors, but after signing Josh Hoffman and prioritising other off-contract halves, the likelihood of Tui ending up at the Eels is not very strong.

Here are a few clubs who could work well with a bloke like Lolohea:

Newcastle Knights: 

If I was the CEO of the Newcastle Knights, I’m on the phone to Jim Doyle at the drop of a hat to try and get the kid in blue and red colours for 2017. After losing Darius Boyd and Kurt Gidley over the past couple of seasons, the Knights have struggled to cement a No. 1, except rotating between Jake Mamo and Dane Gagai during their worst season in the club’s history. Tui Lolohea is at the right age and his style of play could reinvigorate Newcastle’s stale attack, which only boasted 305 points in 2016.

Canterbury Bulldogs: 

The Bulldogs are in all sorts of trouble at the moment, their spine isn’t gelling and their conventional style of play is being exposed by rivals. Individually each member of the Dogs’ spine aren’t lacking in effort, but are fresh out of ideas on how to execute a game plan. Perhaps the departure of key members in their backline could be a blessing in disguise, paving way for a Hopoate switch to centre, handing over the reigns to a ball-playing fullback who could breathe life into the Belmore-based club and help poor ol’ Des Dasler sleep at night, Tuimoala Lolohea could be that man. The versatile youngster acts as a second five-eighth from the back, which would definitely take some pressure off of natural runners Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds. Hasler sure knows how to unlock a player’s full potential and behind a monstrous, intelligent forward pack, Lolohea would shine.

Melbourne Storm: 

Blake Green has signed with the Manly Sea Eagles, which would be the perfect opportunity for a young player like Lolohea to ply his craft under master coach Craig Bellamy, who puts his players through rigorous weekly routines. In a well-run side like the Melbourne Storm, the Kiwi prospect could flesh out some of the little errors in his game. Under the tutelage of the most legendary spine in NRL club history Lolohea could rise to another level.

West Tigers: 

This may be one of the more controversial inclusions but hear me out, Mitchell Moses has reached new heights this year after steering his side out of the thick for the better part of  2016. Becoming one of the form halves of the competition, Moses played a few games at halfback and proved his worth at controlling the pitch. Luke Brooks has shown patches of greatness, but is yet to capture the magic form Moses is exhibiting. Another mediocre season and the Tigers may start to lose patience with their star halfback, who was touted as a future Origin halfback. It is possible the Tigers could sign Lolohea short term and have him as a utility. If Luke Brooks has an underwhelming 2017 at the Tigers, Lolohea would be the perfect candidate to play at five-eighth alongside Mitchell Moses the following season. With Moses’ kicking game doing the rounds, Lolohea’s running game would be the perfect foil in a youthful joint-venture outfit.

Hey, Tui Lolohea may not even end up leaving. He may well just bite the bullet and stick it out on the wing or in reserve grade, but if there’s one thing that’s certain in just about any professional sport: you can’t suppress talent!

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The backline puzzle: where does Josh Hoffman fit in the Parramatta Eels?


The clean-out at the Gold Coast Titans has already seen Nene MacDonald, David Mead and now another high-profile player move on.

Josh Hoffman has signed a three year deal with the Parramatta Eels — effective 2017. His vast improvement in form is full credit to Neil Henry, who shifted him into the centres for the better part of his tenure on the glitter strip. His versatility is also a big plus for the Sydney-based club, with the former Bronco covering up to four backline positions.

The question most fans will be asking is where he fits into Parra’s already-stocked backline? Brad Takairangi recently re-signed with the club and the ball-playing centre is having a blast on the right edge. Michael Jennings occupies the other three-quarter position and despite regression in form this year, he is on big money and has proven himself a big-game player throughout the years — winning a premiership and breaking Queensland’s decade-long dominance of NSW in State of Origin;

Semi Radradra has made the left wing spot his home and a host of other talent, including: Bevan French, Clinton Gutherson, Bureta Faraimo, Vai Toutai & John Folau could find themselves playing outside of Brad Takairangi next year on the opposite edge;

Josh Hoffman’s experience and versatility is wasted out wide in the centres or on the wing and the former Kiwi International needs and by all calculations will, be assigned a more important role.

Corey Norman looks set to make a permanent shift to halfback next year, having proven he has what it takes to control a game. This leaves a pivot spot in the side open, with Hoffman seeming a logical fit, having played in the 6 before. However, with Clinton Gutherson impressing as a makeshift five-eighth and the club on the lookout for an established halfback, which has seen them pursue interest in Adam Reynolds, Benji Marshall and more recently, Sam Williams, it seems unlikely Parramatta’s newest recruit will find himself in playing in the halves.

By my estimations, Josh Hoffman will most likely be playing his first game in the blue and gold with the #1 on his back. His ball-playing abilities and speed-to-burn would be a welcome addition into Parramatta’s spine, which consists of Corey Norman, Clinton Gutherson and Isaac De Gois. Bevan French — whose future is definitely as the long-term fullback of the club, is set to bulk up in size and continue to develop his skills in the new position. Josh Hoffman could offer the perfect mentorship for the rookie sensation. I can see the two rotating throughout the year, with the team benefiting from the raw talent and try-scoring consistency of Bevan French, while also injecting a more experienced hand and seasoned Josh Hoffman.

NRL: Cowboys shopping cheap for Tamou replacement

The reigning premiers of the NRL have identified a few targets to bolster their forward pack and replace NSW forward James Tamou: Felise Kaufusi and Jordan McLean from Melbourne and Jack Stockwell from the bottom-placed Newcastle.

Jordan McLean is enjoying arguably his best season in the purple jersey, averaging more game time and earning himself a starting spot. The Cowboys are willing to triple his salary in order to get him to Townsville. His style is very similar to Tamou, a heavy-hitting prop.

Another target is fellow teammate, Felise Kaufusi. Last year, he enjoyed a breakthrough season with the purple, providing go-forward off the bench. Lately however, he has found himself in and out of rotation of the Melbourne Storm’s final 17. His potential is limitless and is struggling to crack a consistent first grade spot simply due to Melbourne’s stocks. Felise’s younger brother Patrick plays for North Queensland, but that isn’t the main reason that could tempt Kaufusi to jump ship. The allure of a starting spot with a world-class outfit in the 2015 champions, may prove to be too strong for even Bellamy’s pulling power.

Barely into his three year, shy-of-a-million dollar contract with the bottom-dwelling Newcastle Knights, Jack Stockwell has struggled to maintain a spot in first grade, and he is rumoured to have fallen out with Knights coach Nathan Brown. Jack Stockwell showed promising signs when he began his career at St. George-Illawarra and can certainly hold his own, why he’s playing NSW Cup is a mystery. But his defection could be a blessing in disguise, as North Queensland are trying to poach the 24 year old — possibly before the June 30 deadline. They have a couple of days to finalise the deal and we all know how frantic player movements can be at the Eleventh Hour.

One thing is certain, the Cowboys have adopted a more conservative approach to signing talent: opting for lesser-known players to fill big holes. It’s a system that has earned coaches from different sports respect: from Craig Bellamy, to Bill Bellichick to Gregg Poppovich; Paul Green is slowly shifting into a coach of that calibre, basing a team around key members of his spine. Whether the player is a washed up has-been, fringe first-grader or a local park footy hero, if they fit the bill then they’re right for the job.

NRL: Dragon Kurt Mann set to retain spot for season

St. George-Illawarra Dragons coach Paul McGregor is set for a selection headache for his upcoming away fixture against the Newcastle Knights. Who will he retain the services of: Kurt Mann, partnering centre Tim Lafai on the wing OR Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, who has been solid defensively since returning to the Red V this year.

The Queensland-born Kurt Mann was a big signing for St.George-Illawarra and spent the 2016 preseason at fullback, eventually going on to lead from the back for the first two rounds of the regular season, turning in a solid effort against his old club in Round 1, setting up a try, getting a linebreak and running for 98 metres. In Round 2, against arch-rivals Cronulla Sharks, however, Kurt’s fullback experiment hit rock bottom, turning in a lacklustre performance which relegated him to the NSW Cup for 9 weeks and reinstated Josh Dugan back to his custodian role at fullback. In Round 12, the former Melbourne centre was recalled to the squad on the wing, where he’s now scored 4 tries in his last 3 appearances (including a double).

The Dragons have struggled to put points on the board this season and both Fai Fai Loa and Mann have contributed to a majority of the team’s try tally, but with the latter winger’s speed playing a pivotal role in the Dragon’s attacking ambitions, he certainly puts forward a strong case for retaining his spot in the no. 5 jersey. With Josh Dugan set to return next week at fullback, that would push Nightingale to the right edge, where he would partner boom centre Euan Aitken.

The Red V face a struggling Newcastle in Round 16, on Saturday afternoon and with Kurt Mann’s try-scoring consistency over the short term, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa finds his regular spot in the 17 in jeopardy, it’s going to be interesting to see how things unfold over the next few days.

 

R.A. Ortuso’s NSW Blues Origin I Team

With Origin less than a month away, I thought I’d name my NSW Blues side to take on Queensland on June 1st at ANZ Stadium.

Keep in mind, I would’ve awarded Tedesco and Morris with spots on the wing, but unfortunately injuries put an end to their Origin I hopes.

  1. Josh Dugan — St. George-Illawarra Dragons

Earlier in his career, Dugan was seen as a contingency option at the back. Filling in for an injured Jarryd Hayne, now Duges is very much an incumbent for the Blues. He possesses the size, speed and kick returns that Daley loves to see in his fullback. He was the very best out of an under-performing Blues team last year, setting up one of the greatest Origin tries in history. Very hard to stop at the line, the Dragons fullback is in his prime and has the big game experience to secure his spot.

2. Blake Ferguson — Sydney Roosters

After a few strong showings, including an exceptional Test performance against New Zealand, Fergalicious is more than ready to rejoin the Origin arena. Terrific under the high ball and solid in defence, Blake is a fitting choice to play outside of former teammate Michael Jennings.

3. Michael Jennings — Parramatta Eels

Time and time again, centres have failed to poach Jennings Origin jumper. After years of experience in the rep arena and a maiden NRL premiership with the Sydney Roosters, Jennings have definitely become an incumbent for his state. His powerful attack at the line has been proven on a number of occasions this year, finely settling into his new role at Parramatta. He has contributed heavily to NSW over his Origin career and I don’t see Daley pulling the plug on him at the moment. A lock.

4. Josh Morris — Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

The same case for Jennings, many hungrier and younger centres are breathing down Morris’ neck for his state spot but Josh’s defensive capabilities are well documented, making a crucial try-saving tackle on Inglis in 2014, Morris is perhaps the best fit candidate to shut down the Rabbitohs skipper, who will certainly improve at this year’s Origin series.

5.  Josh Mansour — Penrith Panthers

Mansour has developed into one of the most reliable finishers in the NRL. Fearless in both attack and defence, Mansour fits the mould of a Blues player. He also averages the most metres per game for a winger.

6. Lachlan Coote — North Queensland Cowboys

Everyone is accustomed to Coote’s wonderful kicking ability. The man acts like a second 5/8 from the back. I and most others agree that getting Lachlan Coote into a maiden NSW jersey is definitely the right thing to do. After failing to find a concrete halves combination, Coote’s play under pressure and steering a team in attack could become a mainstay for the Blues. He’s proven his big game experience after winning the Cowboys first ever premiership.

7. Mitchell Pearce — Sydney Roosters

I know it’s too soon to be thinking about a Pearce recall, but do we really have a choice? Maloney is in great form, but leads the competition in missed tackles, both from this year and last. Chad Townsend is a class player but needs more time. Hodkinson is one option, but he narrowly misses out in this selection. Since returning from a lengthy suspension, Pearce immediately brought confidence and flair to an ailing young Roosters outfit, giving them direction. Perhaps this newfound confidence could continue through the Origin season? We shall wait and see.

8. Aaron Woods — West Tigers

One of the hardest working forwards in the game. Aaron Woods capped off a brilliant 2015 with only a single regular season try, but its his consistency in getting a struggling Tigers pack in perfect position to strike. Since winning the 2014 Origin series, Woods is an incumbent and I don’t see him getting snubbed any time soon.

9. Robbie Farah — West Tigers

Provides spark in their attack, Daley will most likely go to his regular for the hooking role. Creative, great kicking game and usually impressive in defense. Farah’s experience is valued and he’ll keep on kicking in this series.

10. James Tamou — North Queensland Cowboys

One of the form props of the competition, the premiership winning forward has an offload or two in him and is fearless when taking on the line. Contract negotiations won’t hover over this bloke, he’s playing quality footy.

11. Greg Bird — Gold Coast Titans

It’s been a while since we last saw Bird in a rep jersey, but the time has come once again. After missing out on the entire 2015 Origin series, the Titans enforcer is a lock (excuse the pun) for this year’s series. He brings a wealth of experience and has adopted a senior role over the year amongst his NSW peers.

12. Beau Scott — Parramatta Eels

Probably the most obvious admission in the forward pack here. Scott has terrorized a plethora of players over the span of his career and oh does he shine in the Origin arena. Tailor-made for big game atmospheres, Scott is arguably the best defensive back-rower in the world. After a tremendous 2014 season that saw him take out the Dally M Second-Rower of the Year, he was quiet and injured for most of 2015. But after signing a new deal which sent him to Parramatta, the ultimate enforcer has hit another peak, taking his game to another level. Ages like a fine wine, it’s a terrible shame he wasn’t included in Meninga’s Roos side this year.

13. Paul Gallen — Cronulla Sharks

If Beau Scott ages like a fine wine, then Gallen is a ’47 Cheval Blanc. Turning 35 this year, Gallen could keep pushing on for another year or two, but this is his last hoorah in the Origin arena and with the form that he’s in you’d be mad to spoil his going-away party by snubbing him. Great runner.

INTERCHANGE —

14. Tyson Frizell — St. George-Illawarra Dragons

He has all the makings of a true Origin player: strength, speed and heart. The St. George-Illawarra forward has done wonders for his side over the past couple of years. With 2015 signalling a turning point in his first grade career. Earning an 18th man spot in the Blues opener at ANZ Stadium. Unfortunately he didn’t get to play, but I’m sure this is finally the year Loz decides to unleash the beast.

15. Boyd Cordner — Sydney Roosters

Since returning from injury in round 8, Cordner has been in exceptional form. A string of quality performances may have just secured his spot for the Blues.

16. Wade Graham — Cronulla Sharks

Origin has eluded Graham his whole career, but no longer says I. His ball-playing skills and kicking game are second-to-none for a second rower. The heir to Gallen’s throne at Cronulla, Graham possesses on field maturity way beyond his years.

17. Jack Bird — Cronulla Sharks

Jack Bird possesses the ability to shine in any position he’s utilised in. It’s that kind of versatility that’s much needed for this year’s series. This is the perfect time to be blooding a youngster of his calibre. Expect Birdy to be named as a bolter.

 

Josh Dugan Must Remain a Fullback

With the NRL season commencing tomorrow night, in what is sure to be an exciting clash between the Parramatta Eels and the Brisbane Broncos, players have naturally gone through positional switches. Whether it’s for revitalisation, new team strategy or even experimental purposes. One move that was a relative success, was Josh Dugan’s move into the centres in 2014. It did cater to his attacking abilities, scoring several tries in that position, but the Dragons struggled heavily offensively and defensively that whole year.

In 2015, Josh Dugan was shifted back to his custodian role of fullback. Throughout the year he bedazzled with his kick-returns and running during broken play. He once again, staked his claim as one of the game’s premier fullbacks, quickly reclaiming the NSW Blues No. 1 jumper, vacated by NFL-convert Jarryd Hayne. Arguably the best performing player, in an underwhelming NSW side, Josh Dugan set up one of the greatest Origin tries you’ll ever see, in the first game of the series last year. He eventually went on to be nominated at the Dally M Awards for Best Representative Player, the sole New South Welshman amongst the more experienced group of Queenslanders. He was awarded with the Brad Fittler Medal for best NSW Blues player of the series — an award that is determined by teammates and coaching staff.

At the end of the season, St. George-Illawarra scraped into the top 8 albeit their impressive defensive effort all year. In a losing effort, the Dragons went down to the Canterbury Bulldogs in extra time, concluding one of the most thrilling contests of the season. In his first big finals test as a matured footballer, Josh Dugan put forward a tremendous effort from the back, registering 5 tackle breaks and accumulating 281 running metres, the most of any player on the field.

For most of the 2015 NRL season, Josh Dugan battled through niggling injuries and was not at a hundred percent for most of the year. With his neck surgery a success, he has proclaimed his fitness and readiness for 2016. If a Dugan coping with injury is destructive, it’s a safe bet to assume a healthy version would surely surpass that level of potential. Let’s just hope we get to see him in the role that made him a phenomenon, one that he’s entrusted to wear at state-level, one that statistically sees him on par with some of the game’s greats: fullback.