Paul Rauhihi Tops Offload Stats

They're the sort of off-loading stats normally associated with Ali Lauiti'iti, not a reserve prop under instructions last year to simply cart the ball up for National Rugby League (NRL) sinners Canterbury Bulldogs.

Even Kiwis and North Queensland front rower Paul Rauhihi is surprised he is topping the NRL's offload count this year with Manly wing John Hopoate.

They both have 39 heading into round 17 this weekend.

"I was speaking to someone the other week, I reckon the only reason I'm up there is because he (Lauiti'iti) isn't playing," Rauhihi said.

Lauiti'iti's return for the New Zealand Warriors from a prolonged layoff is imminent while Rauhihi admits he has toned down his enthusiasm to keep the ball alive.

"Over the last couple of weeks I've dropped it off quite a bit. Other teams are paying more attention to me, I seem to be getting contained a bit better."

That Rauhihi even contemplates offloading illustrates the transformation of his playing style since shifting to Townsville after salary cap restrictions squeezed him out of the Bulldogs.

"They didn't really need me doing that down there," said Rauhihi, who lines up against many of his international team-mates when the New Zealand Warriors run on to Dairy Farmers Stadium in Townsville tomorrow night.

"I've been given more opportunity up here to do that sort of thing. I've always liked to get an offload away but I've been prone to a few mistakes now and then.

"I couldn't do that at the Bulldogs, up here you can take a few more risks."

Rauhihi is thriving in his new environment and relishes the added responsibility accorded a run-on player.

He has stood tall throughout a heartbreaking month of narrow losses for the Cowboys despite carrying some niggling injuries.

"When you look at the big picture they're only small issues," Rauhihi admitted after the Cowboys lost hooker Leigh McWilliams (arm) and wing Neil Sweeney (ankle) last week for at least one month.

Apart from offloading, Rauhihi has been an important yardage gainer for the 11th-placed Cowboys.

He cracked the benchmark 200m barrier against Parramatta a fortnight ago, carrying the ball 204m. Against Cronulla last weekend he gained 175m from 21 hit ups.

"I've got a lot more responsibility this year and I believe I'm meeting it. I've taken a step up from Canterbury where I was basically a fill-in player."

Rauhihi, who hopes to stake a claim for inclusion against the Kangaroos this month before Warriors and New Zealand coach Daniel Anderson, admitted the string of narrow losses and a mounting injury toll was testing the squad's resolve.

The Cowboys have lost their last four games by six points or less and they are desperate for a change of fortune.

"You probably take it harder losing by two points or a try than getting flogged by 40. We train well but to have losses like that ... naturally the guys get down.

"People are saying we should be thinking of next year but we still think we can make the top eight."

Meanwhile, Rauhihi is not the only Cowboy leading the statistics.

Centre Josh Hannay boasts the top goalkicking percentage and thanks to that accuracy he is the competition's leading point-scorer.

Hannay has landed 63 of 75 attempts for an impressive 84 per cent success rate. He has also scored five tries for a haul of 146 points, two clear of the Bulldogs' Hasem El Masri.

"I've improved my kicking 20 per cent on previous seasons and I'd like to hit 90 per cent," he said.

"I think I'm becoming a bit of a perfectionist. I think I can and nearly should get every kick, it's just a confidence thing."