Super League 2019 - Former NRL star Uate is eager to make up for lost time with Huddersfield Giants

BEFORE the new Super League campaign has even begun, clubs face myriad problems that can unhinge the best-laid plans fashioned over the previous three months.

Huddersfield Giants' Akuila Uate.
Huddersfield Giants' Akuila Uate.

Castleford Tigers, for instance, saw their international scrum-half Luke Gale tear an Achilles tendon in training just three weeks ago and he is unlikely to now feature until 2020.

Sport has a nasty habit of being unpredictable. It’s also what makes it so intoxicating.

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Huddersfield Giants have had their own misfortune on the eve of the new campaign although thankfully, for all involved, it is nothing as serious as Gale’s setback.

In charge: Michael Lawrence, Huddersfield Giants captain, with Lee Mossop, his Salford Red Devils opposite number.

Still, when their own England star – Jermaine McGillvary – pulled a hamstring in Tuesday night’s friendly at Wakefield Trinity you can imagine Giants head coach Simon Woolford turned the air blue.

Initial fears were the brilliant winger could be missing for up to three months, a real setback especially as his long-term centre partner and captain Leroy Cudjoe is already sitting out the opening weeks with a long-standing knee problem.

However, the prognosis is now four to six weeks so McGillvary should be up and running in the Spring.

And, regardless, the 30-year-old is no longer the only international winger gracing John Smith’s Stadium.

Huddersfield, of course, pulled off a real coup by signing Fiji star Akuila Uate from Manly Sea Eagles in the autumn.

The prolific former New South Wales State of Origin wideman made his Giants debut in that midweek game at Belle Vue and will make his Super League bow when Salford Red Devils visit on Friday.

Ironically, although McGillvary was injured, the Wakefield game actually marked Uate’s own return from a lengthy lay-off, a welcome sight for Woolford.

He featured for the first time since seeing his NRL career ended after suffering an ankle injury while playing for Fiji against Papua New Guinea last June.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, the 31-year-old Uate said: “It was my first taste of what’s to come here and it was awesome.

“I hadn’t played for more than six months since my injury so I was looking forward to it and I did alright.

“The ankle was all good. You hear stories about the cold over here but I’ve been here before and it wasn’t too bad really.

“It was just the fingers really but I was expecting that!

“You just have to get a good mindset before you get out there and I’m here to play footy.

“I’m excited by starting with my new club and I’m looking forward to Friday now. That’s the main game.”

Giants fans will be excited, too, given Uate’s prowess; he scored 129 tries in 200 NRL games, making his mark with Newcastle Knights before spending the last two years at Manly.

Three times he was voted the NRL’s best winger and won five caps for Australia during 2011 and 2012.

Indeed, the man who awarded those caps – Hull KR’s ex-Kangaroos chief Tim Sheens – was on hand to offer Uate a warm embrace when they crossed paths at the Super League launch in Manchester on Thursday.

Uate’s former team-mate Jackson Hastings was also there, the charismatic Australian stand-off who made such an impact with Salford Red Devils last term after being released by Manly last June.

“We’ll have a look at Salford next week but at the moment we’re just looking at our own game,” he said, ahead of that opener.

“I do know Jacko from Manly and it’s good to see him in Super League showing what he can do.

“I’m looking forward to playing against him. He’s a great player who knows the game real well.

“Losing Jerry (McGillvary) is a massive blow for us, that’s for sure.

“He’s one of the marquee players who’s represented England this last year and in the World Cup so it’s sad to see him get injured.

“But that’s the game for you. Hopefully it won’t take too long,” he added.

Clearly, Huddersfield will want McGillvary back sooner rather than later, especially given their traditional habit of starting slowly in Super League.

Last year’s poor start cost coach Rick Stone his job and Woolford, who crucially had such a transforming effect after taking over in May, is keen to make sure they are not so slovenly again.

The former Newcastle assistant completed a stunning turnaround as he began his first head coach gig, taking Giants from 12th to fifth.

Now, after a full pre-season to work further with his players, he will be keen to see them advancing further and challenging at the top end of the table in 2019.

Uate, meanwhile, has no intention of easing his way back into form after his injury.

“I’m here to make a mark,” said the player, just one of a number of high-quality NRL players set to star in the competition this term.

“I didn’t come here just to play Super League. I came here for three years and I want to get somewhere.

“I played in a couple of semi-finals (in the NRL) but didn’t win any. I liked what was said in the (season launch) build-up about how there’s underdogs in this Super League competition and we’re one of them.

“I like being the underdog. We can show anyone what we can do this year and it all starts Friday.”

Huddersfield will believe they are top-five contenders but so do so many other clubs in this Super League.

One thing is sure; if they are to end their 57-year wait for a league title, Uate must bring all of his star quality to the table.