Warriors' new centre of attention
Up until this week Tuimoala Lolohea hadn’t played the centre position once in his life.
Not in the Holden Cup, not at training, not even on the school field at lunchtime.
But this Sunday at GIO Stadium the 20-year-old Warrior will be tasked with containing one of the Telstra Premiership’s most-lethal attacking centres in Raiders captain Jarrod Croker.
After standing out in a losing Warriors side last week while playing fullback, Lolohea will play his third different position in what will be just his fifth first-grade game, replacing Konrad Hurrell who is expected to miss the next couple of weeks with a knee injury.
“I was pretty happy with my performance on the weekend…but it’s a pretty big difference going from fullback to centre – my defence has got to be on and I have to read the game more – it’s going to be a big challenge for me,” Lolohea said ahead of the clash against Canberra.
“I actually haven’t played any centre to be honest, but it’s a new challenge.
“I felt pretty confident [training there during the week] and the thing I was working on was my defence and working with my edge.
“With the experience I have outside me with Jonathan [Wright], Bodene [Thompson] and Shauny [Johnson], that gives me confidence.
“Jonathan has been talking to me all week, as well as Shaun, it’s been good.”
It is unlikely to be a gentle introduction to the position for Lolohea, who will mark up on a Raiders’ left-edge which between Croker, back-rower Sia Soliola and winger Sisa Waqa ran for over 300 metres in their 24-20 victory over the Sharks.
With that in mind, coach Andrew McFadden has wasted no time in bringing new signing Jonathan Wright into the squad, with the six-year, 91-game veteran seen as the ideal partner to guide Lolohea out wide.
“He has been really good Jono, he is obviously really experienced and that will be pretty handy for us this weekend,” McFadden said.
“They might [swap around] but for the majority of the time Tui will be in centres.
“Canberra have pretty strong outside backs that can catch a ball high, Jono is very competent in the air so that is one of the reasons [for playing Wright at wing rather than centre].
“And I just want to get Tui close to the action – he needs to get his hands on the ball.”
The return to action for Wright has been a long time coming, after serving a three-game suspension from last season which kept him out of the pre-season matches and the NRL Auckland Nines.
“I am pumped, it’s been a long pre-season and I haven’t had much game time other than the in-house trials. It has been a long time and I am really excited,” the 28-year-old former Eels, Bulldogs and Sharks player said.
“I am not expecting fireworks or anything like that, just making sure I know my role and what I can do.
“The last game I played was against Canberra, so it’s fitting that my first game back is against them, I know their outside backs are athletic – Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee – we have got to make sure we are on task.”
“Last week basically all they did was put bombs up. If there was nothing on they would just put the kick up.
“We have to make sure we are on our game, getting back and making our catches because that’s a way of nullifying their attack.
“We have trained really hard on that because there are often three or four tries a game just from that, so if we can nullify that then there’s points we can save.”
Interchange forward Albert Vete sat out the end of Thursday’s session with ice on his ankle and at this stage is the only injury concern for the Warriors, with fullback Sam Tomkins appearing to have overcome the hamstring issue which kept him out of the season opener.