King Vuniyayawa pledges improvement after tough Leeds Rhinos debut against Huddersfield Giants

Fijian import King Vuniyayawa admits his first appearance for Leeds Rhinos “wasn’t that great”, but says he is working hard with the coaching staff, knows where he needs to improve and will get better with more time on the field.

The big forward was among the substitutes when Leeds lost 22-16 at Huddersfield Giants last Sunday. His first taste of English rugby came in the second half, when the rain was lashing down and Rhinos were forced to spend half a dozen sets defending desperately on their own line.

He did have a running chance late on, when he was tackled just short of the whitewash, but knows he is on a learning curve and insisted he will benefit from the the experience.

The 26-year-old reflected: “It was all different, a new environment and pretty cold.

King Vuniyayawa in training. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos.

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“It was good getting out there and blowing off the cobwebs. It was all new, but now I know what I need to work on.”

Vuniyayawa made five appearances, all as a substitute, for New Zealand Warriors in the NRL last year, but the most recent of those was in a 37-26 win over North Queensland Cowboys on June 26. He has been training with Leeds for a month, but the return to match action was hard-going.

“I hadn’t played for a while and if I rate myself, I wasn’t that great,” he accepted.

King Vuniyayawa. Picture by Tony Johnson.

“I have just got to get more game time in and I’ll see where I can improve from there on.”

Rhinos signed Vuniyayawa on a one-year deal and boss Richard Agar has stressed he is not expecting too much, too soon from a player who is still a novice at the top level, despite three Test appearances for Fiji.

More - Leeds Rhinos duo Jack Broadbent and Sam Walters pushing for Super League call up after impressing against Huddersfield Giants“The coaching staff are brilliant, they will know what to work on,” Vuniyayawa said. “I have talked to them about it, we know what we need to work on and I can’t wait for the next game.”

Greasy conditions at John Smith’s Stadium took Vuniyayawa by surprise. Agar revealed afterwards; “We noticed him in warm-up, I think we’re going to have to assess his footwear situation pretty quickly.

“I checked his boots after warm-up and he probably needed some longer studs. They weren’t short by any stretch, but north of England at this time of year, when it’s throwing it down, generally you need a couple of options.

“Some players cope all right, but at times we saw him slipping and sliding. It’s not an uncommon problems, it’s just something we need to educate him on moving forward.”

More - Huddersfield Giants 22 Leeds Rhinos 16 - Handley injury a concern but Broadbent shines for LeedsVuniyayawa is already looking forward to drier, warmer conditions and he predicted: “When the dry season comes you’ll see the best of the footy come out, without players making as many errors and it will make running around easier.

“I was slipping around a lot, it didn’t help when I came on after half-time and all the lads had mushed it [the pitch] up in the first half. It was still okay and now I know what to expect from the fields and the weather.”

Vuniyayawa was “a bit nervous” ahead of his first game for Leeds, but hopes he has shown Agar enough to secure a spot in the 17 to facet Wakefield Trinity in Rhinos’ Betfred Super League opener on March 27.

He said: “It is the first time I have changed clubs and been in a new team, but I only trust the boys, they have been all helpful.

“They are a quality side and I have enjoyed every single training session with the coaches and the players.

“I am really looking forward to it [the season], I am pretty excited. We have got a lot of boys here, but hopefully I get on the bench or in the team and get to go out there and do what I love doing.”

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