LEEDS RHINOS have signed Tongan World Cup half-back Tuimoala Lolohea on a three-year contract beginning next season.
The New Zealand-born goal kicker will join Rhinos’ from NRL side Wests Tigers and is Rhinos’ first recruit since Kevin Sinfield rejoined the club as director of rugby last week.
Lolohea, 23, played at scrum-half for New Zealand against Rhinos at Headingley in the autumn of 2015 ahead of the Kiwis’ three-match Test series with England, kicking two goals.
He featured in all of five of Tonga’s World Cup matches last year, including at stand-off in the narrow semi-final loss to England, scoring three tries.
After beginning his career with New Zealand Warriors, he moved to Wests midway through 2017.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Lolohea has made 71 appearances in the NRL and can play at full-back, wing and centres as well as half-back.
It is a long way from home, but a different challenge for me and something I am looking forward to. I want to be part of the Rhinos team and I can hopefully bring my energy to the game over there.Tuimoala Lolohea
He said his taste of the Headingley atmosphere three years ago was a big factor in his decision to join Leeds.
“I have always remembered that game back in 2015 when I played at Emerald Headingley with the Kiwis,” he said. “The singing and support for the Leeds boys was amazing and I can’t wait to play for those supporters.
“That game was Kylie Leuluai’s farewell game for the club and I remember the warmth and passion the supporters had for him and the team.
“That was special. People talk about the passion that the English fans have for the game, but I had seen it for myself and it was definitely a factor when I was thinking about who to sign for.”
Lolohea was Wests’ top points scorer last season, but has been restricted to just six appearances this season due to injury.
He played at half-back in Tonga’s Test win over Samoa last month.
He added, “I am really excited, it is a long way from home, but a different challenge for me and something I am looking forward to. I want to be part of the Rhinos team and I can hopefully bring my energy to the game over there.
“It will be very different for me and a new way of life. I am still really young and this is a big journey for me and I want to make the most of my career and my time in England.
“I have had a couple of injuries this year that have held me back at bit, but I am looking forward to finishing the season strongly with the Tigers and then making the most of the opportunity to come over to Super League.”
Rhinos had been in discussions with Lolohea before Sinfield’s appointment, but the player said: “I have seen Kevin play for a number of years and admired him.
“The professional level he brought to his whole playing career is going to be massive for the whole team. I am looking forward to being part of his team.
“A lot of people have said there is a lot more attacking in Super League and that is the style of play I like to play. I am looking forward to finding out what the Super League competition is all about.”
Sinfield said: “We are delighted to have captured a player of the quality of Tui for next season.
“It is rare in the modern game for any Super League club to sign an international-class 23-year-old from the NRL and I am sure he will be a popular addition to our squad.”