Leeds Rhinos coach Dave Furner admits Tonga star Tui Lolohea is “not happy” about being dropped, but the player’s response has been positive ahead of tomorrow’s crucial game against Castleford Tigers.
The former New Zealand Warrior, 24, was one of Super League’s biggest signings ahead of the new season.
Leeds recruited him from NRL outfit Wests Tigers to help fill the stand-off role, a problematic position they have struggled to solve, in truth, ever since the legendary Kevin Sinfield’s retirement in 2015.
However, with Rhinos enduring a miserable start to the campaign Lolohea was dropped after just seven games and left out of the squad completely for Saturday’s 26-22 loss to Catalans Dragons in Perpignan.
That result left them floundering at the bottom of the table and in urgent need of victory tomorrow.
Lolohea – whose nine try assists with Salford Red Devils’ Jackson Hastings is more than anyone else in the competition – is recalled to the 19-man squad.
However, Furner did not reveal yesterday whether he will face Castleford or not.
“Tui has been named in the (19-man) team and we will have a look at final preparations (on Wednesday),” he said. “He has reacted the way I wanted him to.
“I know he is not happy. That’s something behind closed doors.
“But he is training and doing the things we’ve asked. I am happy with his attitude.”
Furner preferred the versatile Liam Sutcliffe, who was switched from back-row to stand-off, in France and maintained that was the “right decision for the team.”
He added: “Liam has been very solid in the right back-row and I thought he handled the stand-off position quite well. He is solid. I will always make the decision what’s best for the team.”
Clearly pressure is mounting for Furner, the former Canberra Raiders coach who is in the first year of a three-year deal at Emerald Headingley.
However, he is paying little attention to the embryonic table and, though automatic relegation returns for the competition’s bottom club this season, he will not be drawn on whether Leeds are under threat.
In fairness the 48-year-old has reason to be optimistic; his side are scoring points freely.
It is the other aspect of the game that is troubling them – Leeds have conceded on average 26 points per match so far – and correcting that is the priority.
“I have had a look at the competition stats and the match average and we are pretty high on the attacking side,” said Furner.
“It is the defensive side that’s been letting us down and they’re the areas we’ve been working on.
“But two weeks ago it was last-play kicks and last week we conceded three tries from dummy-half. We have just got to be more consistent, in particular on our tryline.
“It is something I keep instilling in this team – resilience on our tryline.
“If you stop a try it is just like scoring one. We need to have that really tough mentality there.”
Former Hull KR back-row James Donaldson could come in for Brett Ferres, who starts a two-game ban, while young centre Harry Newman is also included.
However, Carl Ablett, who has not played this term, has had a second ankle clearout and will be out for up to another six weeks.