HE was once acclaimed the world’s best winger, starred for Australia, Fiji and in State of Origin and remains Newcastle Knights’ greatest try-scorer but Akuila Uate says: “Huddersfield Giants is my only priority now.”
The West Yorkshire club pulled off a major coup by completing a three-year deal for the exciting Manly Sea Eagles wideman who arrived in the country earlier this week to meet his new colleagues for the first time.
Former New South Wales star Uate, 31, is clearly one of the best players of his generation – a thrilling broken-field runner and potent finisher – who is sure to light up Super League in 2019.
Granted, he has been sidelined since suffering a serious ankle injury while on international duty with Fiji in June, bringing an early finish to his decorated NRL career when he scored 129 tries in 200 games.
That proved a frustrating time but Uate told The Yorkshire Post: “That’s behind me already.
“I’ve got a new job to do now which is for Huddersfield Giants; they’re my first priority now and hopefully I can rip in.
“I’ve just got to get myself going, out of rehab and training with the boys. That’s my next step.”
Huddersfield fans are, understandably, salivating at the prospect of having Uate on one wing and homegrown England star Jermaine McGillvary on the other.
The club should expect some tries in 2019 and Uate admitted: “Definitely – we’ve two exciting wingers from the NRL and Super League.
“I’m just looking forward to the day that I get to play and be 100 per cent running.
“Hopefully in the next two weeks I can be doing everything and it is exciting.
“I’m excited to be playing alongside Jermaine and all the boys.”
Uate’s own stellar talent was earmarked early on his career; the great Kangaroos scrum-half Andrew Johns, who watched the dazzling player emerge through Newcastle’s junior ranks, famously said he had never seen a better athlete in all his rugby league career.
Uate went on to become a cult hero at Newcastle, where he scored a club record 110 tries and also first worked with current Huddersfield coach Simon Woolford during the player’s final season there in 2016.
He never got to actually play NRL with Johns, rated by some as rugby league’s greatest-ever player, given the Australia legend retired in 2008, before Uate debuted later that season.
But he recalled: “I got to play with him in the trials that year which was the highlight of my career really.
“I was only young back then – 17 or 18.
“He was a big influence on me. He’s always a big influence on every kid who grew up in Newcastle watching the game.
“I was at Newcastle for 10 or 12 years.
“I was there from the juniors and I got to see Joey (Johns) all the time.
“My first year of full-time training I got to train with him and experience everything; he’s a top bloke and skill wise probably one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Although Huddersfield were linked with Uate for much of this year, it took some time for the deal to actually be announced.
He admitted: “It’s great it’s all sorted. I’m excited that I get to bring my whole family – my kids are seven, four and three – with me here and experience the world as well.
“But I’ve got a job to do. It’s not about travelling the world. I’ve got a job to do for Huddersfield and I’m definitely looking forward to it. They’ve got a young side this year and are missing a lot of players. Some have left but we’ve got some good young ones coming through. For me, it’s about coming back, training with the boys and getting to know them a bit more. But it’s happening.”
With the likes of Matt Frawley having arrived from Canterbury Bulldogs, too, to take over the Giants playmaker role after Danny Brough’s switch to Wakefield Trinity, Woolford will feel he now has the people he wants in place.
Let’s not forget, the Australian coach took over midway through this year, only arriving in June to not only successfully fight fires at the bottom of Super League but truly turn them around as they soared up to eventually get close to the top four in the Super 8s.
Woolford sees Uate as not only someone who can bring world-class firepower but experience, too, especially in helping their raft of talented outside backs like Darnell McIntosh, the Senior twins and Jake Wardle.
Uate, who played here with Fiji in the 2013 World Cup, always hoped to one day experience Super League.
“It was part of the plan in the coming years but Huddersfield came in, the opportunity came up and I never thought twice,” he explained.
“I just took it with both hands. Now I’m here hopefully I can enjoy the three years with Huddersfield. And hopefully more.
“As for how far we can go, we have to take it game by game now,” he said.
“We’ll look at that first game and start building.”
All things being equal, Giants fans’ first sight of the star attraction in Super League should be opening night at home to Salford Red Devils on February 1.