Ali Lauitiiti’s decision to finish his career where it all began at the Warriors has been welcomed by the NRL club’s superstar halfback, Shaun Johnson.
Johnson was just seven when Lauitiiti debuted for Auckland against the now-defunct North Sydney, however the club’s current marquee man will now link up with the player once dubbed the Michael Jordan of rugby league after the back-rower signed a one-year, second-tier contract with the club.
“Loved watching this guy play as a kid. Buzzing,” Johnson tweeted in response to the Warriors media release confirming Lauitiiti’s signing.
Highlighting Lauitiiti’s veteran-status is the fact that eight of the Warriors’ 2015 NRL squad are 22 or younger, meaning they would barely have begun school when the powerful ball-runner scored a try on his NRL debut in April, 1998.
However according to Warriors development manager Tony Iro, that’s the exact reason the coaching staff have brought him to the club.
“With his depth of experience he has so much to offer us as a leader and mentor both on and off the field,” Warriors development manager Tony Iro said.
“In realigning our squad our goal was to retain and recruit quality players while also ensuring we had a strong blend of experience throughout the wider group.”
“While Ali is 36 now we saw he still has his range of skills when he played for Leeds against the Kiwis a few weeks ago.”
Lauitiiti last played in the NRL in 2004, with 115 games and 33 tries to his name.
Since then, his 12 seasons in the English Super League have brought him six premierships and two World Club Challenge victories.
He has also scored 81 tries in his 271 matches abroad, while he also represented Samoa at the 2008 World Cup.
It’s unlikely Lauitiiti will see any first-grade action, with the veteran most likely to take on a leadership role in the club’s reserve grade team.
“As a family we’re excited about heading home after being away so long,” Lauitiiti said.
“For me it couldn’t be better being given this chance to come back to the Warriors. I left a long time ago but the club has always been really special to me.
“While I’ve kept training I’ll have some catching up to do once I join the boys for training but I want to do all I can to help the coaching staff, the team and the club in any way I can.”