Player Profile - Matt Utai

Matt Utai says his 2004 National Rugby League season was like a rollercoaster ride.

And, with a premiership ring in the balance on Sunday, the chunky Bulldogs wing is hoping for one last high before he restarts his Kiwis career.

Utai is now a fixture on the grand final favourite's flank, but it hasn't always been that way.

Suspension following a pre-season trial game saw him miss the opening four rounds of the competition and although he muscled back into the side he was a casualty of a heavy round nine loss to Newcastle.

Sent back to reserve grade to rediscover his form, Utai spent seven weeks in the reserves before convincing coach Steve Folkes he was worthy of a reprieve.

He signalled his return to the top flight with a double against Manly on July 4.

Four tries against the New Zealand Warriors in the final round of the regular season cemented his spot for the finals series and has also put him in line for Kiwis' Tri-Nations selection, though he has ground to make up with coach Daniel Anderson.

The 23-year-old former Aucklander scored on his Kiwis debut in 2002 at Wellington and was also picked for last July's 6-48 pummelling in Sydney.

However, Anderson was unhappy with his commitment in Sydney and dropped the Muslim convert from the side that scored an upset 30-16 win over Australia at North Harbour Stadium last October.

Utai said he was happy with his attitude after a self-confessed form slump.

"It's a bit of a rollercoaster ride but it's all come out good in the end," he said of his season, before cautioning: "The job is only half done".

"I was having a problem with my confidence but the guys helped me a lot. I just had to fight my way back in and hold my spot."

Utai, scorer of 14 tries in 18 games, insists he hasn't given a Kiwis recall serious thought though he is expected to be added to the Tri-Nations train on squad after the grand final.

His reluctance to speculate on a third cap against the Kangaroos on October 16 at North Harbour is not entirely to do with Anderson - a dodgy left ankle could require surgery.

"I have a few scans coming back to see how bad it is," said Utai, who has played through the pain barrier for several weeks.

Consequently he is on a strict training regime and does not run early in the week. Whether he can be nursed through four tests against the Kangaroos and Great Britain remain to be seen.

"I still have to see another specialist and a doctor. The main thing is it's all right for Sunday."

Other than his ankle, Utai joked his right arm was so sore from signing autographs he hoped he would still be able to catch a pass at Telstra Stadium.

The 23-year-old, whose low centre of gravity makes him difficult to contain sniping out of dummy half, was one of the most sought after Bulldogs at a fans' day this week, behind fellow Kiwi Sonny Bill Williams.

"After experiencing that you don't want to see the disappointment on their faces at the end of the game," said Utai of the motivation the fans provided.

"You just want to go out there and do your best for them."

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