Former Headingley hero Ali Lauitiiti has tipped Leeds Rhinos to be back among the honours this year.
Lauitiiti joined Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at the end of last season – after picking up his fifth Super League Grand Final winner’s ring in his 200th and final game for Rhinos.
He is set to make his competitive debut for Wakefield in their Stobart Super League opener at Widnes Vikings next Friday.
But he has been keeping a close eye on developments at Leeds and he reckons his old team are “looking really good” this year.
“I saw them in Rob Burrow’s testimonial game last week and they looked sharp,” said Lauitiiti. “They are going to be hard to beat.
“They will be one of the top teams this year.
“They haven’t had many changes, they have got a really good squad and I think they are going to do well again.”
Wildcats had been due to visit Rhinos next month, in Super League round three, but that game has been postponed because of Leeds’ involvement in the World Club Challenge.
The derby at Rapid Solicitors Stadium, Belle Vue, is on July 29 and that’s a date already ringed on Lauitiiti’s calendar.
“That’s going to be good,” he said. “It’ll be different – and tough – but it’s all part of the game – and we’ve got to play them sometime.”
Only seven overseas players have made more appearances for Rhinos than Lauitiiti, who is the club’s most successful import in terms of championship victories.
“It has been hard leaving Leeds after eight years, but that’s the past now,” said Lauitiiti, who joined Rhinos from New Zealand Warriors mid-way through their first Super League-winning campaign in 2004.
“I am just concentrating on Wakey now. The boys have been good, the coaching staff are excellent and the club’s been good too.
“I am really enjoying it. I was at Leeds for eight years and I think change is always good, it keeps you on your toes and it has given me a new start.
“I am happy here and I think we will go well this year. It is going to be tough, with it being a new team, but there’s some good players here and some good young players who have come through the academy.
“We will take it week by week and see how we go.”
Wildcats’ first 14 squad numbers have all been allocated to new signings and Lauitiiti added: “We’d like to gel straight away, but we’ll have to wait and see.
“The boys are a good, tight bunch here and that’s a real positive. We’re looking forward to the first game next week and we’ll see how we do.”