Wests Tigers fullback Tui Lolohea admits coach Ivan Cleary has told him he has “things to work on” in a reserve grade trial for the Magpies this weekend as club-mate Corey Thompson assumes the No.1 jersey for the top squad against Canterbury.
Former Bulldogs winger Thompson is back in the country after an impressive two-season stint with Widnes in the UK where he scored close to a try per game and played on both flanks with a few games at fullback.
Thompson was also one of the team’s best in a 30-16 trial win over the Cowboys in Cairns on Saturday, including a second-half stint at fullback which was one of the team’s best passages of play for the match.
The 27-year-old has been rewarded with the No.1 jersey this weekend, leaving Lolohea to contemplate a serious challenge to the fullback role many assumed he would simply inherit from now-Rooster James Tedesco.
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“I’ve had a good chat with Ivan and there are some things I need to do,” Lolohea told NRL.com.
“I’m really excited for this weekend and I can’t wait to rip in with the boys. I’ll be meeting some of the boys this week for the first time but I’m looking forward to having a consistent 80-minute game and just getting an 80-minute game under my belt.”
The chance to play big minutes at the back to work on a few things was part of the reason for his demotion, according to Lolohea, but he was reluctant to expand on what exactly he needed to work on.
“I’ve had a good chat with Ivan and there are some things we’ve talked about. It’s a good chance for me to put those things into practice,” he said.
“I just kind of want to keep that between ourselves, that’s the chat we’ve had and that’s how it’s going to stay.”
After some inconsistent seasons at the Warriors where he was constantly shuffled around, including into a wing role where he openly admits he was not comfortable, followed by a half-season in the black and gold No.6 jersey, Lolohea was at least relishing the chance to focus on one position through the pre-season.
“It’s good to stay in one position but I still need to get better, each day, each week,” he said.
"It’s good to get a pre-season at fullback. You get to analyse your game, your training sessions, you find out where your weaknesses are. Now that’s done it’s footy time where it’s all going to happen and you get the chance to analyse your game a bit better and I’m excited for the season ahead.
“My main goal for this year is to be consistent, try and be a consistent fullback and just do my job for the team week in week out.”
For his part, Thompson was relishing the opportunity this weekend presents to him in part because he is also among a log-jam of players (including fellow recruit Mahe Fonua and incumbent Malakai Watene-Zelezniak) vying for a left-wing spot with David Nofoaluma having a mortgage on the opposite flank.
“Growing up I was a fullback, all through juniors I was there, I’ve always had that little desire to play there. When I was at the Dogs I was fullback in reserve grade but in first grade every game I was on the wing and I got accustomed to that,” Thompson told NRL.com of the chance presented to him this Saturday.
"I played left wing, right wing and a few games at fullback [at Widnes]. It doesn’t bother me where I play. This pre-season me and Tui have trained out the back and it’s helped with my fitness levels too.
“Some clubs don’t take depth into account and I think it’s very important. Me and Tui push each other too so we’re always helping each other, if we see something that we could work better at, it’s good, we need that. I’m vying for a wing spot as well. All the backs are fighting for their jobs.”