Leeds Rhinos: New recruit Ava Seumanufagai’s quickly getting up to speed

AT TIMES this season Leeds Rhinos have looked half asleep during games.

By Peter Smith
Monday, 6th May 2019, 9:16 am
Updated Monday, 6th May 2019, 9:21 am
Ava Seumanufagai.
Ava Seumanufagai.

Nobody would have blamed recruit Ava Seumanufagai if that was literally the case during his debut in the 28-16 loss at Salford Red Devils on Friday evening.

The Sydney-born New Zealander, 27, contributed two spells off the substitutes’ bench just two days after arriving in England from Australia, via flights to Tokyo and then London and a train ride to Leeds.

Ava Seumanufagai drives forward against Salford Red Devils.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Seumanufagai had his bags packed and took the first available flight when his visa came through last week so his feet barely had time to touch the ground before he was donning his No 38 jersey for the first time.

He had just one training session with the team, the captain’s run on the game before the game and, still heavily jetlagged, was awake from early on Friday morning.

Even so, he still managed to make an encouraging contribution in a poor overall team effort.

“It was okay just to get the cobwebs out,” he said of his first game in Betfred Super League.

Leeds Rhinos head coach Dave Furner.

“There’s a few things to work on for myself, but that will come in the next few weeks with some game fitness.

“It was a good blowout.”

Rhinos trailed 12-0 before halving the gap with a try on the stroke of half-time.

But Salford dominated the second period and went 28-6 ahead, meaning two late touchdowns were merely consolation for Leeds who remained third from bottom in the table.

Reflecting on his first taste of European rugby, Seumanufagai said: “It was very fast, really quick play-the-balls.

“The speed on attack is something I have got to work on.

“I didn’t know what to expect so it was good to get a first taste.

“I know a lot of the boys come over here from the NRL so I couldn’t imagine it would be any different – and it was a lot faster at times as well.”

The former Wests Tigers and Cronulla Sharks front-rower was not discouraged by Rhinos’ performance. despite the disappointing result.

“I thought it was good,” he said.

“The communication [between players] was good, everyone is staying positive.

“They have had a lot of games in the past few weeks so this week we are back to the drawing board and working on what we need to work on.

“Absolutely I see positive signs.

“I feel like everyone was trying to play for each other, everyone was being positive on the field, communicating to me when I didn’t know the plays. I thought that was good.”

It was difficult circumstances for Seumanufagai to make his debut.

This is his first visit to England and he admitted: “I didn’t realise it would take that much out of me, the flight, but it did.”

“My body clock is a bit out at the moment.

“That game should help and hopefully I’ll sleep better now.

“I was awake at 3am [on Friday] wide awake and I stayed awake after that.”

Seumanufagai has travelled over ahead of his family who will follow once he is settled in.

“Everyone’s been really friendly,” he added.

“I have played with Tui [Lolohea] before, all the boys have been welcoming to me and I’m grateful.”

Rhinos take a break from the Super League relegation battle this weekend when they visit Bradford Bulls for a BBC-televised Coral Challenge Cup sixth round tie.

Coach Dave Furner rested some key players for the previous round against part-timers Workington Town, but Seumanufagai is likely to play on Saturday to boost his match fitness. “I am trying to take it day-by-day,” he stressed.

“I will be ready for it when it comes.”