Rugby League: Tuigamala experiences culture shock

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The Independent Online
ON A wing and a prayer, Va'aiga Tuigamala has made his official landing at Wigan. Tuigamala, signed on a four and a half year deal reputed to be worth pounds 400,000, was unveiled to a waiting world at Central Park yesterday - an event that caused a bigger media stir than any signing from rugby union since that of Jonathan Davies by Widnes five years ago, writes Dave Hadfield.

'Inga the Wigana', as a sign outside the ground described him, said that he was looking forward to playing alongside Martin Offiah rather than replacing him. The Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, tried to further defuse rumours by saying that Offiah 'still has great games and great tries left in him, but Va'aiga Tuigamala is right on his heels'.

Robinson compared Tuigamala with the legendary Billy Boston, a reference which rather lost its point when it became clear that the new signing had never heard of his illustrious predecessor.

There were other elements of culture shock. Tuigamala revealed that he had never liked training, had never used weights and had suffered weight problems.

'I know that rugby league is a very physical game, so I have to equip myself very well,' he said.

'Polynesians tend to blow up without exercise, but with the help of these guys I don't expect to get into that position again.'

His new coach, John Dorahy, has talked of Tuigamala as a potential centre, but the player himself revealed that he last played in that position at school, going straight from the pack to the wing in senior rugby.

''I was too greedy, so they switched me from first to get the ball to last to get the ball,' he said.

Tuigamala, a devout Christian, also revealed that a cousin who travels the world preaching had already recommended a suitable church in Wigan. 'I look forward to going there and having fellowship with them,' he said.

He might have to wait a little longer before striking up full fellowship with his new team-mates. Tuigamala had a brief first training session with them yesterday, but Dorahy said that it could be two or three weeks before he is even given a run-out with the reserve side.

Tuigamala will be an interested spectator at today's Regal Trophy semi-final between Salford and Wigan at The Willows.

Shaun Edwards's shoulder has recovered better than Frano Botica's ankle, so he will play, with the help of pain-killing injections, at scrum- half opposite his old Wigan partner, Andy Gregory, who has the task of marshalling an unchanged Salford.

The approach of the Challenge Cup transfer deadline on Monday has been marked by a flurry of activity and potential activity. Widnes have signed the New Zealand Test centre, Mark Elia, and the Eastern Suburbs forward, Tim Russell, who should arrive from Sydney next week.

Greg Austin, the prolific try-scoring Australian centre, is a target for Widnes and St Helens. Austin, 30, has scored 19 tries for Keighley this season after notching 27 in 26 games for Halifax last year.

Austin, who has also played for Rochdale Hornets, Salford and Hull KR, said: 'I would jump at the chance of joining either St Helens or Widnes because things have just not worked out for me at Keighley.'

Bradford Northern, who need to revive their championship ambitions against Oldham tomorrow, are unloading four experienced players. The former Great Britain forwards, David Hobbs and Brian Noble, are being allowed to go without a fee, while Bradford are asking pounds 40,000 for Steve McGowan and pounds 15,000 for Gerald Cordle.