Uate enjoying scoring tries again
His first season at the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles resulted in Akuila Uate scoring more tries than he had in four years.
At the height of his powers in nine seasons with the Newcastle Knights, Uate grabbed 15 tries in his 24 Telstra Premiership club games in 2013.
It was leaner pickings after that, but a switch to Manly in 2017 and he became the northern beaches club's top scorer with 14 tries from 24 games – a far cry from 2016 with Newcastle (one try from 10).
"I didn't know that," Uate told NRL.com about returning to the glory days of being a reliable try-scorer. After all, he won the Dally M winger of the years three times in a row from 2010 to 2012.
"It's probably because of the great bunch of players around me that set up the try for me. My job is to finish that off."
Obviously, a happier Uate in a different environment was also at the root of his renewed ability to score points. He doesn't put any of it down to the fact wingers are doing more of the razzle-dazzle by the day – the twisting, airborne bodies defying gravity to get the ball over the line.
Uate is quite firm in separating himself from the league's more flashy fellow flankers like Melbourne's Josh Addo-Carr, Suliasi Vunivalu, Wests Tigers David Nofoaluma, Canberra's Jordan Rapana, or the Knights' Nathan Ross.
"I'm not really like them. I'm more your traditional winger. I just need space," Uate said.
"Different players have different skills that they practise. I'm very old school. As long as I put it down cleanly I don't care how I get it down.
"I'm more team-orientated in wanting to score tries for my team than worrying about spectacular ways to do it. But good on them. They do crazy stuff.
"I actually do practise a lot of catching and good jumping. I look to see who I'm marking each week so I know how they like to do things.
"If I'm on [Sydney Roosters winger Daniel] Tupou for instance, he's so tall, I have to be very good in the air that week. I did that last year as we played the Roosters twice so I just had to get up to those kicks first."
Manly also beat the Roosters twice in 2017, in round five and round 22. But the Roosters went two weeks deeper in the NRL Telstra Premiership finals series. They made it to the preliminary final in week three; Manly fumbled at week one losing to Penrith.
"I want to go further in the finals this year than we did. That is my focus for 2018," Uate said, with that beaming smile missing from his face for the first time in the interview.
"I play to win. I hate losing, so I want a few more steps up from last year that's for sure."
Uate should reach a significant milestone anyway, well before September.
Sitting on 185 NRL games, he's in line to bring up 200 in round 15 against St George Illawarra, barring any injuries or other disruptions.
"It will be a good year for sure," Uate said.
"I was very excited coming back after the World Cup because I knew we had basically the same group of players here.
"We all didn't like how we finished last year so we will be doing better this year. And if I get over 200 as well, then I will be very happy," the 30-year-old said.
Another uplifting source is working alongside his Fiji World Cup teammate Api Koroisau. The Manly No.9 will be a busy man in 2018 as he's the only recognised hooker in the Sea Eagles roster, although Jackson Hastings' utility value is a stand-by.
"He is not just a hooker. He looks after the big boys as well for us," Uate says of Koroisau. "None of the big boys like running at Api because he can do a lot of damage even though he's smaller.
"Api is the kind of bloke, who is very humble and does his job well. He trains well and is one of the fittest at the club."
Koroisau ranked fourth in the NRL for the most tackles last year with 952, behind Cameron McInnes (1,155), Jake Friend (1,102), and Simon Mannering (986).
"I guess when you're as good as Api it's easy to see how he's everywhere on the field bringing everyone down," Uate said.