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My dream 17: Ali Lauiti'iti

Once described as rugby league's answer to Michael Jordan, Ali Lauiti'iti took the NRL by storm through the early 2000s with his incredible array of skills and sheer power with ball in hand. 

Named the Dally M Second-Rower of the year in 2002, he was a key figure in the Warriors' maiden Grand Final run that year and in total played 115 games for the club before departing for the UK Super League.

By the end of his career, Lauiti'iti had played for the Warriors, Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity at club level, along with representing both New Zealand and Toa Samoa at Test level. sat down with the 43-year-old to discuss his dream team of players he lined up with and against across an 18-season career. 

Ali Lauiti'iti's dream 17

1. Brent Webb

"I played with him at both the Warriors and Leeds and he was an exciting player. Great on the ball but kept busy off it too. His speed and evasion allowed him to create things others couldn’t. A naturally gifted player."

2. Francis Meli 

Meli bulldozes Dogs with five-try frenzy

"He had a lot of confidence and was so physical. He loved to assert his physicality on other teams - basically he loved hitting guys - and as people saw could do some damage. Francis was a strong runner too who could score some tries."

3. Clinton Toopi 

"Explosive and super aggressive. Another one who could put on a shot. He loved to create tries and played with confidence. He was a guy who wanted the ball in his hands and his confidence helped the Warriors in the early 2000s. His enthusiasm was contagious."

4. Nigel Vagana 

"He knew where the try-line was and was so smooth in his movements. He was light on his feet but powerful enough to break through tackles and use evasion to glide through people. He was an older brother to all of us in the Samoan team at the back end of the career."

Nigel Vagana's five star night

5. Lesley Vainikolo

"The rugby league version of Jonah Lomu. So much power and the fastest guy around when he was coming through the grades. He had raw speed and strength and could create a try from anything. He was a sprint champion as a kid with hardly any training, which is freaky."

6. Rob Burrow

"He did some exciting things on the field and was one of those players who is rare to come across. Three foot tall and the heart of a giant. He was a player to remember."

7. Stacey Jones

Grand final tries you should remember: The little general

"Stacey led through his actions and the things he could do were out of this world. Not only a player I loved playing with, but he was a guy I watched on TV as a kid. He was right up there with the greatest halves around in my era and was a Kiwi guy Australians would always talk about, and he was respected around the world."

 8. Joe Vagana 

"Smokin’ Joe. Just all power and strength in attack. Knew his role and where to position himself and did it every time. He was a big, big guy and someone I played against a lot when he was at Bradford Bulls, which was never fun when it came to tackling."

9. PJ Marsh

"Had a big heart and was brave enough to tackle anything that came at him. In attack his speed off the mark at dummy-half was huge and he was creative and sneaky with the ball. He gets into my team ahead of another legend I played with, Danny Buderus, which is saying something."

PJ Marsh played 35 games for the Warriors across 2002-03.  ©NRL Photos
PJ Marsh played 35 games for the Warriors across 2002-03. ©NRL Photos

10. Jerry Seuseu

"Tough and never, ever took a backwards step. Jerry loved the hard stuff but could also produce a pass when needed. He was crucial in making the Warriors’ pack so intimidating in the early 2000s, he was our leader out there and led from the front."

11. Ruben Wiki 

"You’d take a carry after Ruben and he’d already taken out half the opposition pack. Off the field what he brought to the team was unmatched. He was one of the greatest leaders I ever played with."

Wiki takes to the stage

12. Logan Swann

"Logan was a workhorse, he led by example and would do anything for the team. He was super underrated and one of those guys who did all the hard stuff for others."

13. Kevin Sinfield

"A great leader. A creative player who had the skill of a half, but the body and work ethic to play in the middle or on the edge. Such a versatile player, he was good enough to have been a star in the NRL too."

14. David Solomona 

"Probably the most skillful forward I played with. Some of the things I saw him do were extraordinary. You had to always expect the unexpected with him and he was the king of the offload. He could have five defenders on him and still offload."

David Solomon (left) and Ali Lauititi won the 2005 Tri-Nations together with the Kiwis, beating Australia 24-0 in the final. ©NRL Photos
David Solomon (left) and Ali Lauititi won the 2005 Tri-Nations together with the Kiwis, beating Australia 24-0 in the final. ©NRL Photos

15. Kylie Leuluai 

"Tough and one of the biggest hitters I played with. He always wanted to get amongst the rough stuff and could be relied on. Off the field he became a great friend."

16. Motu Tony

"He’s one of the bosses where I work at the New Zealand Rugby League, but he’s not my boss, so he’s here on merit! He was so versatile. Played hooker for New Zealand, played a NRL Grand Final at five-eighth, could play wing, centre, fullback. Only Craig Wing could be close to him in that regard. Explosive and creative too.

17. Shontayne Hape 

Skillful and strong in the centres, but able to play in the pack too. He started out as a second-rower in his early days and played as a middle forward for the Kiwis. His talent was unreal and he went on to play rugby union for England too. He could have been a great Warrior if he didn’t get injured early on in his career.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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