Blockbusting second rower Ukuma Ta’ai is set to leave the Warriors at the end of this season, with the Mt Smart club deciding not to renew his contract.
It is understood that Ta’ai, 25, would have preferred to stay in Auckland but the Warriors have been unable to find a place for him in their roster, given their surfeit of forward riches. His destination in 2013 is still to be finalised, but there are said to be four NRL clubs as well as several Superleague outfits chasing his signature.
“I can confirm that Ukuma won’t be at the Warriors next season,” his agent Peter Brown told the Herald on Sunday.
Ta’ai, who came through the junior grades at the Mt Albert Lions, made his NRL debut in round three of 2009 and has since clocked up 50 appearances (seven tries). He flitted between first grade and the Vulcans last year but performed strongly in several important matches.
It would have been a tough call for the Warriors, as Ta’ai is one of the hardest players to tackle at the club and is particularly mobile for a big (105kg) man. He is tough to the point of being fearless, has the ability to offload and is a strong, punishing defender. On the debit side, he can get exposed on the edge of the ruck and is sometimes susceptible to handling lapses.
Ta’ai was one of just 12 players to feature in all of the first 10 matches of this season, though he was used mainly off the interchange bench, averaging around 26 minutes playing time with five hit-ups and 13 tackles per game and a total of 10 tackle breaks and one try.
After a barnstorming performance against the Roosters in round 10, blighted by his concession of two late penalties, he was not selected in the 17 for the clashes with the Broncos and Tigers. He was originally named for the Vulcans earlier this week but later withdrawn from the line-up and didn’t feature in their 26-18 loss to the Sharks yesterday.
Many league pundits would like to see Ta’ai used at prop but, with the Warriors’ ‘famous four’ (Ben Matulino, Sam Rapira, Jacob Lillyman and Russell Packer) and this season’s emergence of Sione Lousi, that was always an unlikely prospect.
Instead he has been used in the back row but like Lewis Brown earlier this year has now found himself surplus to requirements.
Do yous thnk tigers have a chance? it would be a huge boost to our pack