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Leeds Rhinos today confirmed the signing of New Zealand rugby league star Ali Lauiti?iti, 24, on a two and half year contract with the giant Kiwi likely to make his debut in the Rhinos next home game against Salford City Reds on Friday 28th May.
Lauiti?iti, who earned the catchphrase as ?the Michael Jordan of Rugby League? for his outrageous ball handling skills, had been released from his contract with the New Zealand Warriors sparking a world wide chase for his signature. However, the Rhinos have beaten competition from 14 other club?s in Australia and England to secure the second row. Commenting on the signing Chief Executive Gary Hetherington said, ?We are bringing one of the world?s most dynamic and exciting rugby players to Headingley, which is good news for Leeds Rhinos and the Tetley?s Super League competition.
When we signed Iestyn Harris in 1997 we likened it to the signing of Lewis Jones and similarly the capture of Ali could be as significant as when the legendary Arthur Clues joined the club in 1947. Arthur arrived from Australia having become an international at a young age, he was blessed with great ball handling skills, speed and elusive footwork, all characteristics that Ali shares. We are planning to bring Ali over in the next 10 days with the aim for him to make his debut at our next home game on the 28th May.?
Head Coach Tony Smith added, ?I am very excited about Ali coming to Headingley. He is an extremely talented, young player but unusually for someone of his age he also has so much experience having played over 100 NRL games and 11 Test matches. He will fit in well with our group of players and his abilities will complement the type of game we try and play.? Factfile
Ali Lauiti?iti earned the catchphrase as the ?The Michael Jordan of Rugby League? since making his senior debut back in April 1998 for the New Zealand Warriors. Just two years later he was named the NRL second row of the year ahead of the likes of Great Britain?s Adrian Morley and host of Australian test locks. He is a monster of a man but his speed, footwork and offloading ability set him apart from other forwards, thus earning him is nickname.
Lauiti?iti joined New Zealand Warriors from Mangere East club in 1996 and shone as a junior in their U19 side in 1997 scoring 17 tries in 19 games. He went onto gain international honours with the Junior Kiwis that year and in 1998. He was selected for the New Zealand test squad for the 2000 Anzac test but missed out on final selection for the match instead making a try scoring debut against the Cook Islands at Reading in the World Cup. He also scored against Wales in the next game at the Millennium Stadium. He has now played 11 times for New Zealand and was part of the Kiwi?s side that toured Great Britain in 2002, featuring in seven out of the eight games on the tour including all three Tests against the Lions, plus games against St Helens, England A, Wales and France. He also scored in the third Test against Great Britain. He was an integral part of the Warriors squad which reached the Grand Final in 2002, the first time in the club?s history, where they lost out to Sydney Roosters. He has appeared in 115 games for the Warriors and scored 33 tries.