Written by Callum Walker
After starring in the NRL for New Zealand Warriors – with whom he made his debut in 1998 aged just 17 – imposing second-rower Ali Lauiti’iti made the move to West Yorkshire – and more specifically – the Leeds Rhinos ahead of the 2004 season. Lauiti’iti had played 115 games for the Warriors and scored 33 tries by the time he left the club at the end of the 2003 NRL season.
The signing of the New Zealander – at the age of 24 – was considered a real coup, after all, over ten teams from both Australia and England were thought to be chasing his signature. He chose Leeds and the West Yorkshire club profited – and then some – from his decision.
Over a period of seven years, Lauiti’iti appeared 200 times for Leeds, scoring 63 tries – a quite remarkable figure for a forward. At Leeds, he developed into an immense, ball-handling second-rower at Leeds and became one of the most feared and powerful forwards in the game. It was no surprise therefore that Lauiti’iti was at the heart of the Leeds side that won two League Leaders’ Shields, two World Club Challenges and two Super League Grand Final titles.
Remarkably, in 2005, the former New Zealand Warrior became the first forward ever to score five tries in the Super League when he tore the then-named Wakefield Trinity Wildcats apart. Quite surprisingly, the uncompromising forward only appeared in two Super League Dream Teams: 2004 and 2005.
Even after departing Leeds for Wakefield Trinity in 2012 at the age of 33, the 6ft2, 115kg monster still racked up another four seasons in Super League, playing at a consistently high level as he had done throughout his career. Whilst at Wakefield, Lauiti’iti registered 20 tries in 94 appearances before moving back to New Zealand Warriors at the end of 2015.
At his boyhood club, however, the forward managed just one season before retiring in 2016.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Lauiti’iti represented the Kiwis 19 times between 2000 and 2006, before switching his allegiance to Samoa in 2007 for whom he played four times.
Once in a lifetime, a player comes along that each and every team and their fans fear to play against; Lauiti’iti was one such player. With the strength to take three or four men with him whilst still keeping his legs driving, he was one of a kind. A devastating line-runner with a wicked offload, very few Super League players could stop the rampaging beast on their own.
And, that’s what made the Kiwi so dangerous; whilst teams focused on wrapping the imposing figure up, it left space on the edges from which his outside backs could take advantage of. Most Super League sides would, therefore, have breathed a sigh of relief when Auckland-born Lauiti’iti went back home to his native New Zealand in 2015.