Youngster Lolohea chasing Warriors wing spot
Rookie Warrior Tuimoala Lolohea is eyeing Saturday's final trial hit out against the Panthers as his chance to secure an NRL spot for the opening game of the season.
The 20-year-old has built a reputation as a dynamic playmaker through the junior grades, but with Shaun Johnson a certainty at halfback and Chad Townsend all but assured first crack at five-eighth, Lolohea believes the backline is where he has the best chance of playing first grade in 2015.
Both David Fusitu'a and Glen Fisiiahi are nursing injuries which will see them miss at least the opening three weeks of the season, meaning the Warriors' right wing spot remains wide open for round one against the Knights in Newcastle.
At this stage the uncapped Solomone Kata, a hat-trick hero for the Junior Warriors in last year's grand final win, is thought to be the front-runner for the spot.
But on Saturday in Rotorua Lolohea and fellow Holden Cup graduate Ken Maumalo will get their chance, lining up on the flanks in a near full-strength Warriors side.
Lolohea has only limited experience as a winger, having played the position for the first time late last year as injury cover in the NRL squad, but has spent plenty of time training there over the off-season.
"I have been training everywhere in the backline [and my best shot at NRL in 2015] is probably somewhere in the backs, but that's up to 'Cappy' [Andrew McFadden]," Lolohea said.
"This week I am playing on the wing which is something different, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
"I hadn't played wing until last year, but I have played fullback and they are similar.
"I have been training at wing throughout pre-season, you just have to learn little detail stuff and efforts that you need to do.
"There are a couple of other boys eyeing up the wing spot for round one, so it will be a good challenge for me."
Despite arriving back from the holiday period heavier than he had hoped, Lolohea is back to a comfortable playing weight of 95kgs and was a standout performer for the Warriors at the NRL Auckland Nines.
"I just enjoyed my Christmas too much – I had a chat to Cappy and that was my downfall – but everyone at the club has helped me do something about it," Lolohea said of his weight gain.
"I have managed to get my weight down a little bit and I am a bit lighter this year; the pre-season has been good in terms of slimming down a bit and my skins folds have been good."
Teammate Townsend said there had been a notable change in the way Lolohea conducts himself at training compared to this time last year.
"He is a freak athlete, 'Tui', he has speed and power and such good footwork, hopefully he can mature a bit and we will see the best of him this year," Townsend said.
"I think his confidence has grown a bit, we have always known he can play and he got a taste of it last year, and I think this year we will see some more confidence out of him.
"He trains in a lot of positions and has that X-factor about him where he can play on the wing or in the halves, which is an asset to any team.
"He is doing all the right things at the moment."