Cult-hero Lauitiiti gains lift off in vital Rhinos victory over hard-chasing Hull

ALI LAUITIITI gained cult-status at Leeds Rhinos essentially from the very start of his career with the club in 2004.

Leeds Rhinos Ali Lauitiiti.

The giant Kiwi second-row, such a marauding runner yet blessed with remarkably delicate hands, made an instant impact after arriving from New Zealand Warriors in May that year.

For many Rhinos fans, starved of success for so long, they dared to guess his capture could be the final piece in the jigsaw as they sought a first league championship since 1972.

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They were right, of course.

However, if ever a game highlighted Lauitiiti’s value that campaign, it was the 28-24 win over Hull FC on June 25, 2004.

Twelve years ago, he came up with a crucial try that put the leaders in charge against opponents who were chasing hard behind, third in the table.

Lauitiiti had already plundered one try in the first half when he produced some trademark magic in the second to take the game away from Hull and maintain the club’s 100 per cent record at home.

In his own unique style, he exchanged passes brilliantly with Papua New Guinea wing Marcus Bai to secure his fifth try in as many matches for the Rhinos.

By the end of his Headingley career, the gifted forward would score 58 tries in 181 outings and be forever engrained as a Rhinos hero.

He is, of course, still going strong now at the age of 36, back where it all began with Warriors’ reserve-grade in Auckland after four years with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Hull were furious, however, that they did not get more out of the game that night especially when Shayne McMenemy touched down off Shaun Briscoe’s head at a critical point in the engrossing second period but no try was awarded.

They had led 12-10 at half-time, Richard Horne having scored a penalty try and Nick Scruton – on loan from Leeds – adding another while Rhinos full-back Richie Mathers was off sin-binned.

Lauitiiti and Keith Senior crossed for the hosts who gained the lead via Chev Walker early in the second half.

Hull captain Paul Cooke’s kicking quality saw Briscoe hit back again but Lauitiiti came up with his killer play before Jamie Jones-Buchanan added another, leaving Colin Best’s late effort for Hull a mere consolation.

Leeds Rhinos: Mathers; Cummins, Walker, Senior, Bai; Dunemann, Burrow; Bailey, Diskin, McDonald, Lauitiiti, Feather, Sinfield. Subs: McKenna, McDermott, Ward, Jones-Buchanan.

Hull FC: Briscoe; Best, Whiting, Eagar, Raynor; Cooke, Horne; King, Swain, Dowes, McNicholas, McMenemy, Lupton. Subs: Wilkinson, Higgins, Bailey, Scruton.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).