HAMILTON coach Scott Coleman has welcomed plenty of game-changing backs through the gates at Passmore Oval.
Sonni Halanukonuka and Delanimate Ratu were instrumental in the Hawks’ premierships success last season. Eric Vasukicakau, Rob Smith and Tana Lauti have also played key roles in championship campaigns in recent years.
But Coleman believes the latest arrival, Kirisome Laulala,could be the pick of the lot.
The Kiwi utility will make his run-on debut for the Hawks at outside centre in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union blockbuster against Maitland at Marcellin Park on Saturday.
“He will be a massive asset for us,” Coleman said. “Once he finds his feet, he will make a a big impression on the competition. He is sharp, hits hard, can fire a pass at full pace and is very skillful. He has played for Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup and can play anywhere from 12 out. He looks very good and will only get better once he gets familiar with everyone.”
Laulala joined the Hawks three weeks ago after a short stint at rugby league with Central Newcastle.
“I chased him in November through Ryan Dunnett (Onside Player Management),” Coleman said. “He was going to Lake Macquarie because he had a family connection then decided to give league a go and went to Charlestown. He hadn’t played league before and wasn’t enjoying it.”
Laulala played third grade against Merewether (2) in round nine, came off the first-grade bench in the 38-22 win over Wanderers – Coleman’s first game back in charge – but was away for the 29-17 victory over Merewether.
On Saturday, he replaces Angus Brown, who is overseas for four weeks, and along with centre partner Paddy Killmurray will have the job of restricting Maitland match-winner Carl Manu.
Manu, who is on track for back to back Anderson Medals for the competition’s best player, switches from 13 to 12 against the Hawks.
The Blacks are fresh from 47-31 triumph over Wanderers but are without skipper Chris Logan and promising lock Ben Whood, who are away with the NSW Country Cockatoos and under-19s respectively.
However, former Country lock Michael Howell returns for his first game since injurying his ankle in round one.
Howell and lineout general Travis Brooke missed the Blacks’ 44-19 defeat to the Hawks at Passmore Oval in round three.
“Maitland are a solid team across the board and are definitely 20-30 per cent better playing at home,” Coleman said.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Chad Northcott moves back to fly-half for Nelson Bay against Southern Beaches at Strong Oval.
Captain Lupematasila Barcelona, hooker Josh Nicho and Jordan Leota return for the Roos’ trip to University.
Dillon Rowney has been named Singleton captain for the visit by his former club Wanderers.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.