Tuimoala Lolohea was widely regarded as the logical successor to James Tedesco’s No.1 jumper at Wests Tigers after the NSW Origin fullback joined Sydney Roosters over the summer.
But the former Warriors utility back’s hopes of directly opposing Tedesco in the Tigers’ Round 1 clash with the Roosters have been dealt a blow, with coach Ivan Cleary dropping Lolohea to reserve grade ahead of this weekend’s final trial.
Off-season recruit Corey Thompson has the custodian gig for the Tigers’ NRL trial against his former club Canterbury, while Lolohea will run around for Western Suburbs Magpies in an attempt to press his claims.
Thompson, an occasional fullback during stints with the Bulldogs and Widnes, is better known as a winger but impressed during a stint at the back in last week’s win over North Queensland.
The demotion is another chapter in the 23-year-old Lolohea’s stop-start career. An NYC superstar at five-eighth and fullback, he missed just three NRL games in 2015-16 but frequently bounced around the Warriors’ team sheet.
Lolohea’s subpar game-management qualities stymied his bid to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves long-term, while he often struggled with the workload and defensive requirements of the fullback spot.
After starting 2017 on the wing under new Warriors coach Stephen Kearney – who handed Lolohea a New Zealand Test debut at halfback less than 18 months earlier – he had slipped out of the first-grade picture altogether by Round 5 and eventually negotiated a release.
Lolohea put in some strong displays in 13 games at five-eighth following his mid-season switch to the Tigers – including a final-round runaway try against his former club – before starring in Tonga’s World Cup charge in the No.6.
But now it appears he is back to square one in clubland.
The arrival of Josh Reynolds and Benji Marshall has bumped Lolohea back down the halves pecking order, while Fiji Test captain and fullback Kevin Naiqama, and now Thompson, provide formidable competition for the No.1 spot.
Despite the setback, Lolohea is maintaining a positive outlook.
“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.”