Down Under Blog: #68 Andre, Fili, Ratu and Willie

Pommy Rich gives us all the mis-dealing's in the NRL in his world famous Down Under Blog.

Well, what a difference a couple of weeks makes eh? From months and months of straight losses, at the time of writing at least, we’re on a three match winning streak, our talismanic former captain is out of retirement and carving it up, Mini and Sika are having an Indian Summer, we’ve got a new flying Fijian winger, and have just signed one of the best young players around in Andre Savelio.

Reading our new signings first interview, it seems like the deal was done quickly, Hull swooping literally the day after Andre informed his agent he’d be looking to return to Ol’ Blighty. The really interesting thing about Andre is that despite his exotic name, and being born in New Zealand, he’s an English Citizen, and doesn’t count on any overseas quota. His Dad, Lokeni, was a really rough arsed prop who played for Salford, Widnes and Halifax, carving out a fairly decent career without ever really hitting the heights. Meanwhile young Andre was schooled in Warrington, and was signed as a junior by St Helens. After a season at Warrington he was snapped up by Wayne Bennett and was being spoken of as a real dark horse, really impressing in pre-season training at Brisbane. Then, last year just 14 minutes into his first pre-season friendly, disaster struck and he did his ACL ruling him out for the full season.

At his age, he’s the perfect signing right now – he’s a free running second rower, could probably double up in the centres if we’re desperate and will make a great loose forward in the future too. He is hard to tackle, has a great offload, and hits hard in defence too. In short we’ve signed a younger version of Willie Manu. On his day Willie could be absolutely unplayable, breaking tackles left, right and centre, and hitting bloody hard in defence too. If Savelio is similar, and has an impact like Manu did, we’ve got a gem, and have pulled off one hell of a coup, as half the Super League were after him as well.

Now, back to flying Fijian wingers, and how good has Ratu Naulago been? You could argue that his tries have been fairly simple run ins, but for a bloke who a few weeks ago had never played a competitive game of Rugby League, his positioning and awareness have been remarkable. How good is our strength in depth when our fourth choice winger (Bureta, Tuli, Matty Dawson-Jones all ahead of him), is     running in 4 tries in 3 games, and looks the part. Maybe the decision to recruit enough players to have a reserve side is paying off? Maybe not as well, as Nzoungou or Langtree not being a better option than bringing back a player that’s been retired for 16 months doesn’t ring true. Ellis would walk into any side in Super League though, so we can forgive that.

Of course we’ve had an ex Rugby Union Fijian winger before, when we signed Fili Seru in the late 1990’s from the Illawarra Steelers. Fili like Ratu had excelled at 7’s Union before signing for the now defunct South Queensland Crushers. He could score tries for fun when on form but was out of his depth in the NRL. The problem with our Fili was that his wing turned into a turnstile in defence, and despite him scoring plenty of four pointers for us, he conceded far more. Fili was a really nice bloke though, and despite his obvious shortcomings defensively actually managed to become something of a fan favourite. He was one of the few highlights of our first season in Super League in 1998 scoring 11 tries , one of them being a great effort as we beat Leeds at the Boulevard. We finished 9th and Fili was our joint top try scorer with captain Alan Hunte.

Next year of course was our Annus Horribilis, as we finished joint bottom with Huddersfield, surviving on points difference, and almost going out of business before the Richardson rescue package. Fili had a terrible season that year only crossing twice, his last game being off the bench when we got 50 odd put past us at Wigan. He was dropped and replaced by Paul Parker for the remainder of the season. He then  found himself surplus to requirements when the Gateshead contingent arrived. Matt Daylight, Ian Herron and a young Brian Carney became our wingers and Fili faded into memory.

Personally I think history has been a bit unkind to him too, as he played for us when we were absolute toilet and had the lamented Graeme Hallas as his centre, which I think would’ve turned Martin Offiah into a carthorse.

Interestingly, Fili played against Wakefield in 1999 when Gareth Ellis was 18th man. Gaz making his debut a few weeks later at Central Park…. In the 2000 season, it would’ve been possible for Gaz and Andre’s dad to have faced each other, but a 19-year-old Ellis      wasn’t picked when Wakey played Halifax missing out on facing Lokeni who played off the bench. That’s a    mental thing to consider isn’t it, and adds to the legend that is our greatest signing this century.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

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