Lote to Souths: Good Move?

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  • January 21 2014 1:53PM

Lote Tuqiri signs with South Sydney Rabbitohs on a one-year deal.

I can't say I'm overjoyed at the news, especially given his last few years with Wests Tigers, but looking at his career stats you can see why he is an attractive proposition for the club.

But his last few years haven't been too great.

If you need a refresher, it goes a little something like:

  • standout year in 2010, scoring with his first touch of the ball in his return from rugby union, consistently good performances and even earning a spot on the wing for the Australian Kangaroos signalled a successful return,
  • not a bad 2011 but only played nine games due to various injuries,
  • after recovering from injury to make his 2012 debut in round five, he broke his arm in July and was ruled out for the rest of the season,
  • the broken arm he suffered didn't heal properly so only played the last four games of the season.

You can't hate a bloke for getting injured, and Tuqiri has had some rotten luck in that department. The series of broken arms sent the feared and explosive winger back to the rehab ward for most of his last few years, and that is my first concern.

South Sydney have already been through the patch of being the competition's laughing stock for signing injury-prone 30-something year olds.

Rabbitohs fans can't forget the years of questionable signings and decisions made by the club - the one that sticks in my mind is Terry Hill, who signed as a 32 year old, injured his groin and retired, only to return with Manly the following year.

Initial reactions about Tuqiri's signing re along similar lines.

The other, and probably more glaring, reason is his form for the Tigers.

We do have to take into account how his confidence may have been rattled given his history of injuries, but his form was nowhere near where it should have been.

He was caught out in defence, was easy to stop with the ball and seemed to be reading opposition plays (most notably kicks downfield) a lot slower than in previous years. For a winger, being in position is as, if not more, crucial than finishing ability. Tuqiri's handful of games in 2012 and more notably in 2013 proved he was down the pecking order at the Tigers.

It would not surprise me if Tuqiri found himself at the North Sydney Bears for most of 2014. The Rabbitohs already boast impressive backline weapons in Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Chris McQueen (when he's not in the forwards), Dylan Walker, Beau Champion, Bryson Goodwin, Aaron Gray and fellow newbies Joel Reddy and Kirisome Auva'a. And that list does not mention the other under-20s players.

What I can see Tuqiri doing is playing a mentoring role for the squad. Tuqiri has 151 first grade games under his belt, six Origins and 12 International caps (nine for Australia, three for Fiji), along with his 107 first grade rugby union games and 67 Tests for the Wallabies. There aren't too many player who can boast those numbers, and his 15 years of experience - where he became the premier winger in both codes - will prove invaluable for the next crop of Rabbitohs.

Despite the negative opinion I have of Tuqiri's defence, the man can still score tries. He crossed 27 times in his 52 games for the Tigers, which is a strike rate of just over 50%. If he can keep or even improve that strike rate if he plays first grade for the Rabbitohs, he will more than prove his worth.

Souths have had an average run in recent years despite maintaining injury-prone ways, before Michael Maguire stepped in to return the glorious club back to the top of the premiership ladder.

He's built a young and talented roster, promoting several junior players and fielded one of the best forward packs in the rugby league world.

He copped criticism last season when he brought Goodwin into the fold, which raised a lot of eyebrows. After a few shaky performances at the start of the season, Goodwin evolved into one of the more important centres in the cardinal and myrtle, playing 25 NRL games and being recalled by New Zealand.

Here's hoping he can have the same effect on Tuqiri.

Follow Matthew McInerney on Twitter at @MMcInerney89.

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