NEW IMPORT Tui Lolohea has put his hand up to be Leeds Rhinos’ first-choice goal kicker this year – and is getting expert advice from one of the best.
The Tonga – and former New Zealand – international has been working on his kicking with Rhinos’ director of rugby Kevin Sinfield who is the third most prolific marksman in rugby league’s history.
Rhinos have been without a specialist goal kicker since former club captain Sinfield retired at the end of 2015. Current squad members Kallum Watkins, Richie Myler, Liam Sutcliffe and Ashton Golding have all had a turn, along with Jordan Lilley, spending 2019 on loan at Bradford Bulls, Zak Hardaker, who has left the club, and Rob Burrow, now Leeds’ under-19s coach.
Lolohea kicked one goal from two attempts, off either sideline, in Leeds’ Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity and confirmed he is keen to take the duty on a permanent basis.
“It is a big one for me,” Lolohea said of the kicking role. “Ever since I’ve been over here Kev Sinfield has been in my ear about goal kicking.
“[On Boxing Day] I missed one from the sideline.
Ever since I’ve been over here Kev Sinfield has been in my ear about goal kicking.Tui Lolohea
“But the second one was a pretty important one, because if I hadn’t kicked it and they were to score and kick the goal we would have been down by two points. I hit it on the sweet spot and it went pretty well.”
Lolohea revealed: “I have been doing a lot of work with Kev, he is always in my ear, saying ‘are you going to do some goal kicking?’.
“The more I can do, the more successful I will be on the field. I have kicked quite a bit in my career, I have always been a goal kicker in my team so I’ve just got to keep practicing.”
The Christmas fixture was Lolohea’s first for Leeds and he reckons both he and the team will be better when they open their Betfred Super League campaign away at Warrington Wolves on Saturday, February 2.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve still go a bit of work to do, but overall I was pretty happy with my performance. Defence is a big focus of mine and I felt pretty comfortable getting my body in front of people.
“That’s a big role as a half and I’ve just got to keep doing it.”
From a team perspective, Lolohea described Rhinos’ first game under new coach David Furner as a “positive sign for us”.
He said: “We were a bit rusty, but it was Boxing Day and the season was more than a month away.
“This is when the most important work is going to be done skills-wise and getting together and knowing each other and how we play. We are going to be working hard throughout January to do that.”
The half-back partnership of Lolohea and last season’s player of the year Richie Myler will be crucial for Rhinos in 2019. Boxing Day was the first time they have teamed up.
But Lolohea said: “We’ve done a lot of work together.
“If we can get on the same page, especially with the spine – nine, six, seven and one – and do the best job we can our team should go a long way.”