Leeds Rhinos have signed 23-year-old Tongan international half-back Tuimoala Lolohea from Wests Tigers on a three-year deal from the start of next season.
Lolohea was part of the New Zealand squad who played the Rhinos at Emerald Headingley prior to the Kiwis taking on England in a three-game series in 2015.
He joined Wests Tigers midway through the 2017 season from the Vodafone Warriors and has made 71 appearances in the NRL.
Commenting on signing for the Rhinos he said, “I have always remembered that game back in 2015 when I played at Emerald Headingley with the Kiwis. The singing and support for the Leeds boys was amazing and I can’t wait to play for those supporters. That game was Kylie Leuluai’s farewell game for the club and I remember the warmth and passion the supporters had for him and the team, that was special. People talk about the passion that the English fans have for the game but I had seen it for myself and it was definitely a factor when I was thinking about who to sign for.”
He was Wests Tigers top points scorer last season but has been restricted to just six appearances this season due to injury. He has shown his versatility this season by switching to full back for the Tigers however he returned to his favoured half back role with the Tongan side for their recent win over Samoa.
He opted to play for Tonga for last year’s World Cup following his father’s heritage despite having previously gained a cap for New Zealand in 2015. He now has four caps for Tonga including World Cup semi final with England in Auckland last year when Tongan nearly caused one of the biggest upsets in the game’s history having already defeated New Zealand earlier in the competition. The team’s achievements resulted in Lolohea going back to his home village, Lapaha, located in a small town called Mu’a, and the same village Tongan superstar Jason Taumalolo hails from.
The pair have since been honoured as two of six players to have the nation’s rugby league competitions named after them. The under-13s Cup is now known as the “Tuimoala Lolohea Cup”.
Lolohea is hoping a change of club and competition will give him the chance to show once again what he can do. He added, “I am really excited, it is a long way from home but a different challenge for me and something I am looking forward to. I want to be part of the Rhinos team and I can hopefully bring my energy to the game over there. It will be very different for me and a new way of life. I am still really young and this is a big journey for me and I want to make the most of my career and my time in England.
“I have had a couple of injuries this year that have held me back at bit but I am looking forward to finishing the season strongly with the Tigers and then making the most of the opportunity to come over to Super League,” added Lolohea.
The Rhinos have been in discussions with Lolohea for a number of weeks prior to the appointment of Kevin Sinfield as Director of Rugby last week however the Tongan international says he is looking forward to working with Sinfield. He added, “I have seen Kevin play for a number of years and admired him. The professional level that he brought to his whole playing career is going to be massive for the whole team. I am looking forward to being part of his team.
“A lot of people have said that there is a lot more attacking in Super League and that is the style of play I like to play. I am looking forward to finding out what the Super League competition is all about,” added Lolohea.
Commenting on the signing Director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield said, “We are delighted to have captured a player of the quality of Tui for next season. It is rare in the modern game for any Super League club to sign an international class 23-year-old from the NRL and I am sure he will be a popular addition to our squad.”