Leuluai: Halves partnership a work in progress

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 13:21 03/03/2013
Thomas Leuluai
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THOMAS LEULUAI: The Warriors five-eighth is in the reckoning for a return to international rugby league with the Kiwis.

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Warriors standoff Thomas Leuluai admits his halves partnership with Shaun Johnson is still a work in progress, despite it being less than a week until their NRL opener against the Eels.

But the former Kiwis international is confident he and rising star Johnson will spark things up as the season grinds into gear, taking a simple, clear approach to their football.

Leuluai will likely play his first game back in Warriors colours since 2004, after signing from Wigan last season. He is expected to start at No 6 against the Eels in Sydney on Saturday night - where he will play a key role sparking the weapons-rich Warriors backline.

"It's going to take a while [with Johnson]. Those sort of things don't happen overnight," Leuluai told Sunday News.

"It's not just that - we've got a new hooker [Elijah Taylor] in there as well, who hasn't played too often at the position. It makes things harder - but we just have to keep things simple at the start of the year.

"We can't look for too many things too early. We've got a new coach coming in with a new system, and new style of playing, so there's a lot of new things we've been taking on board.

"We've got to keep it as simple as we can. If we defend well, we've definitely got a lot of talent to score points at the other end."

Johnson experienced a frustrating 2012 season, with his loss of form so dramatic towards the end of the year he was dropped for the final game against the Raiders. Leuluai is confident the one-test Kiwi can bounce back. He is also impressed with the War- riors' youngest attacking threats.

"I always find with players here at the Warriors, you don't have to do too much for them," he said. "Someone like Konrad Hurrell - he mostly does it himself. If you give him early ball, he'll have a good crack.

"We've got that talent, and big guys like Manu Vatuvei out wide. I'm honestly excited about what we've got."

Returning to Mt Smart Stadium and Warriors football for the first time in nine years, you'd expect the 27-year-old to be feeling a little nervous about his first hit-out back in the NRL.

Yet for Leuluai, league is league, and he just wants to get back on the paddock.

"We've had a really, really long preseason. Longer than I'm used to, that's for sure," he said. "It's going to be a tough challenge - but I'm looking forward to it."

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