Leeds see off stiff competition to sign Lauitiiti

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The Independent Online

Leeds have completed a notable coup by beating the likes of Wigan and St Helens to sign the New Zealand Test second-rower, Ali Lauitiiti.

Leeds have completed a notable coup by beating the likes of Wigan and St Helens to sign the New Zealand Test second-rower, Ali Lauitiiti.

The Kiwi, famous for his extravagant ball-handling, has been released from his contract at the New Zealand Warriors and has agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Leeds, for whom he will make his debut against Salford on 28 May. Leeds were able to win the race to sign Lauitiiti, who supposedly had offers from 14 clubs on both sides of the world, because they have a vacancy on their overseas quota and room within their salary cap.

"We are bringing one of the world's most dynamic and exciting rugby players to Headingley, which is good news for the Leeds Rhinos and Super League," said the club's chief executive, Gary Hetherington.

Lauitiiti, 24, was rated as the best second-rower in the world two years ago, but told the Warriors this season that he had lost his appetite for the game. Leeds must hope he gets it back in a new environment.

"I'm very excited about Ali coming to Headingley," said the Rhinos coach, Tony Smith. "He is an extremely talented young player, but unusually for someone of his age he has so much experience, having played over 100 NRL games and 11 Test matches. His abilities will complement the way we try to play."

The St Helens coach, Ian Millward, has named his Challenge Cup final team to face Wigan in Cardiff on Saturday, with Ade Gardner claiming the left wing spot ahead of the Samoan, Dominic Feaunati.

Feaunati has just returned from the three-match suspension that interrupted his exciting progress in his new code and will be on the bench at the Millennium Stadium alongside Jon Wilkin, who has not played in the first team since serving a four game ban. "If Dom gets the chance, I'm sure he'll still make an impact," Millward said.

Wigan's experienced Kiwi prop Quentin Pongia has been cleared to play in his first cup final. Pongia's place in Cardiff was in danger after he was reported for a suspected high tackle in the game against Widnes last Friday, but he has now been told that he has no case to answer.

The Wigan coach, Mike Gregory, faces the question of who to leave out for the first time this season. David Hodgson came through his comeback game safely on Friday and Martin Aspinwall is in full training this week. "I've still got one or two issues to resolve and I won't be naming the side until Saturday morning," Gregory said.

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