Ice-cool Lolohea repays Cleary's faith
Wests Tigers fullback Tui Lolohea was dropped for the club's final trial match but completed a stunning return to top-flight footy with a match-winning sideline conversion in Saturday's gripping 10-8 defeat of the Sydney Roosters.
Speaking to media after the season-opening win, Lolohea couldn't keep the smile off his face as he recalled his emotions lining up that crucial conversion, having shanked a much easier shot at his previous attempt.
''I was pretty confident it was going over,'' Lolohea said.
''I've been taught by Hodgo [kicking coach Brett Hodgson] to always think your kick is going in.
''That's what was going through my head. I tried to flush my last kick and stay composed with the crowd behind me. It was pretty cool getting the kick in to win the game and no better feeling than starting the season with a win.''
Asked about his emotions in the moment, Lolohea laughed: ''To be honest it was a little swear word to myself but in a good way! It's really hard to describe.
''People think it's a big play - and it is a big play - but at the same time it's my job and that's why you practice every week, a couple of sessions a week, for those kinds of moments.''
Lolohea again refused to comment on the reasons behind his demotion in the final trial, beyond being told by coach Ivan Cleary he still had ''things to work on'', but hoped he had done so following a match in which he also notched 140 running metres, four busts and three offloads.
''I had a little idea [he would be playing in round one],'' he said.
''I had little things I had to work on leading into that last trial so I guess I must have done some good work. It was awesome news to find out I will be playing round one. I tried to put my best foot forward and play the best I can.
''It's been a big couple of weeks. To play reserves made me realise I have to do more, stay hungry if I want to be playing [first] grade at fullback.''
Cleary was pleased with how Lolohea responded since the trials.
''It doesn't get much harder than that last kick. It's one any goal kicker dreamed of but you can have nightmares about it as well,'' Cleary said.
''He's been doing a lot of work, to his credit. A lot of work with Brett Hodgson. That's where those kicks are made, what you do on the training paddock. It was certainly a good moment.''