Lote Tuqiri returns aiming to shatter his mentor’s dream
- By Steve Gee
- From: The Daily Telegraph
- September 20, 2010 12:00AM
Wayne Bennett Lote Tuqiri
HE’S forever indebted to the man who moulded him from schoolboy to Test star.
But Wests Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri will have no qualms about biting the hand that fed him when he faces Wayne Bennett’s Dragons on Saturday.
Forget the premiership bonds of 2000, Maroons jerseys and the near certainty that the victor and vanquished will chew the fat after the siren sounds at ANZ Stadium. There is no mistaking what the clash means to the dual international.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would play against Wayne [when I left the NRL in 2002],” Tuqiri said of the clash against Bennett’s Dragons.
“But circumstances change and here we are. He’s had a huge part in my career. I won a grand final [with him] and had some great times. But I play for the Tigers now and he’s the coach of Saints, so we’re both going to be wanting to win.”
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Tuqiri insists it’s nothing personal. “It’s not me against him or anything,” he said. “It’s us against the Saints, so I’m just really looking forward to playing against a Wayne Bennett-coached team.”
Tuqiri also sees the game as an opportunity to make up for the final-match heartbreak he endured during his first incarnation in the NRL.
On that occasion the Broncos lost 16-12 to the Roosters in the 2002 preliminary final.
Finals football is tasting even sweeter for Tuqiri this time. Alongside Origin, it was the chance to again run on to the field on the first weekend in October that kept the league flame flickering in Tuqiri during his seven years in rugby.
A decade after sipping from the premiership cup, the veteran, who turns 31 on Thursday, is relishing another shot at grand final glory. The journey is extra special because it is with a team of underdogs, not in a Broncos side expected to succeed.
Tuqiri said Friday’s win over Canberra was among the best of his career. And he’s convinced the Tigers can roll on against the premiership favourites.
“No one gave us a hope in hell [against Canberra], but we looked inwards rather than outwards and we got home,” Tuqiri said.
“The job’s not done yet. Hopefully we’ve got two weeks to go. We’ve got Saints this week and we have to concentrate on that.”
The giant winger has never been happier on and off the park. “It’s been awesome this year,” he said. “It’s not over yet, so I’m not counting my eggs too early.”
Tuqiri’s Tigers resurgence continues unabated
September 20, 2010
WESTS Tigers coach Tim Sheens laughed when asked yesterday whether he was surprised at the pace Lote Tuqiri showed last Friday night, given that he probably sees it on the training paddock each week.
‘‘He doesn’t show that at training,’’ Sheens said. ‘‘It’s the adrenalin in the game. That’s where a lot of wingers find the extra yards. Particularly the older ones. When the game’s on, it’s the adrenalin and the competitiveness that gets you the extra yards in those situations. [John] ‘Chicka’ Ferguson was a great example of that. He’d always reserve the right to be quicker in games.’’
If Tuqiri’s first try after his return to the NRL - against Manly in round one, with his first touch of the ball for the club - didn’t show that he was still capable of producing in the competition, his standout effort against the Raiders surely did. When he opted to return to rugby league after seven years of rugby union, many felt he would be off the pace. But that try showed he had lost little, if any.
‘‘To be honest, I just saw a bit of space and I decided to put the pedal down,’’ Tuqiri said yesterday, recalling the 20th minute try. ''The legs were feeling fresh and I saw some open space and I backed myself and just went for that try line.
‘‘When I came back, I didn’t want to let anybody down. I still thought I had a lot of speed. Pace is one thing you’ve got to have if you’re a winger.’’
The other is the ability to finish, and Tuqiri has not lost that either. The try against the Raiders was his 16th of the season, and his other key statistics also compare well to those of his previous life in league, with Brisbane between 1999 and 2002.
‘‘I would have taken that at the start of the year, for sure,’’ Tuqiri said. ''The season’s just gone … I started off really well, scoring a try with my first touch. I’ve probably exceeded my expectations.
''But I’m in a team that’s playing well. I wouldn’t be scoring those tries and playing OK if the blokes around me weren’t playing well.
''It helps when you have staff and a coach like Tim [Sheens] who have confidence in me.
‘‘You put a bit of pressure on yourself to repay that faith.’’
But what of those who did not have the faith? Many felt he would be too old and had spent too much time in foreign territory - not overseas, but in rugby union - to return to the NRL. Tuqiri wasn’t bothered by them then and he isn’t now.
‘‘I was always confident in my own ability,’’ Tuqiri said. ‘‘I haven’t looked back too much - I’m always one to look forward. I don’t want to harp on the past too much. I’ve backed myself to play well and I’ve backed the team to play well. It’s just a good feeling that we are.’’
Sheens added: ‘‘We were criticised for playing him so early off the plan. It was always going to be about showing people. Talking wasn’t going to prove anything - it was always going to be about coming back and doing it.’’
That said, Sheens said it has been a work in progress.
‘‘There’s no doubt union had taken him off the pace, from where he was,’’ Sheens said.
‘‘His training was well behind, but he’s closed that gap significantly. He’ll be better next year.’’
But there’s still some unfinished business to deal with first. Tuqiri is only thinking this year right now - and the prospect of a preliminary final against St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
‘‘This is not the end of the season yet,’’ Tuqiri said. ''I don’t want to put too much pressure on my teammates, but we’re in a good place.
‘‘It’s good to be here where we are. I definitely made the right decision to come here.’’