I AM here to win trophies. That was the message from Leeds Rhinos’ overseas recruit Tuimoala Lolohea when he arrived at Emerald Headingley yesterday.
The New Zealand-born half-back has joined Rhinos from Wests Tigers on a three-year contract and insists he wants to add “value” to Leeds’ revamped team.
He travelled straight from Manchester airport for a look around his new surroundings and pledged: “I’m excited to be a part of this club and if I can come and add some value with what I know and what I can do on the field, hopefully we can get another premiership.”
Lolohea is the first of Rhinos’ three overseas signings to touch down in England. Marquee recruits Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin are expected in the next two weeks.
“It is really good to be here, Lolohea added.
“I was pretty excited when I found out Leeds had offered me a contract. That [winning Betfred Super League’s Grand Final] is the goal.
“I have only ever won an under-20s premiership in the NRL so it would be good to win a top-level trophy.
“Whether it takes a year or three, that’s my goal while I am here and hopefully we can achieve that.”
Rhinos, eight-time Grand Final winners, are rebuilding under new coach David Furner after finishing ninth in Super League last season.
“It has been a bit of a clean out, a new coach and a couple of new players coming along,” Lolohea observed. “It is probably not going to go all smooth sailing from the beginning, but I think we are going to get there.
“Speaking to Furnsie [Furner] he says the boys are all pretty keen in the two weeks he has been here and they are all really committed.
“I am looking forward to getting on the [training] paddock with the boys.”
Lolohea worked with Furner in the Tongan Test squad and is relishing resuming their relationship.
“I don’t know what he’s like as a [head] coach, but as a defensive coach he was pretty spot on,” he said.
“He is really passionate about footy and he has played with Leeds so he knows what to expect.
“I know he is going to do well.
“He will be a great coach, I can’t wait to work under him and get to know him a bit more.”
Lolohea can play anywhere in the backs, but is expected to begin the season as Rhinos’ first-choice stand-off, partnering No 7 Richie Myler.
The 23-year-old, known as Tui, began his career with New Zealand Warriors and has 71 appearances in the NRL to his name as well as being capped by Tonga and the Kiwis.
He said: “I pride myself on my running game.
“It wasn’t where it has been the past season, but I am hoping to bring it back.
“The first thing Furnsie said to me is we’ll hopefully get you back into your running game.
“That’s one of my strengths and we will see how it goes.”
Lolohea admitted he did not have his best season in 2018, but regards moving to England as a fresh start and an opportunity to regain his top form.
“A couple of injuries held me back a bit,” he reflected.
“Hopefully I can come here and get on top of my pre-hab’ and re-hab’ and get back to playing some of my natural footy, my running game, working well with the team and getting the defence right.
“I think that’s something I learned really well from the NRL, defence wins big games.
“That’s big for me this season; if I can get my defence right I know I can play football on the back of that.”