MAITLAND prop Turi Uini has brought a smile and a swagger back from his stint with Samoa.
The power-packed loose-head spent six weeks in camp with the national side, culminating with a 33-5 loss to the Western Force at nib Stadium a fortnight ago.
Uini returned to Marcellin Park in peak condition and after a short break, Maitland co-coach Ryan McCormack is confident the 25-year-old will add a spark for the crucial clash against Nelson Bay at home on Saturday.
“It was a big decision to bring Turi in for his brother Frank,” McCormack said. “But Nelson Bay have a really strong scrum and we need to make sure we are at our best. The two sessions Turi has done, he has brought a lot of confidence. He has a smile on his face and a bit of a swagger. He really enjoyed the experience with Samoa, loved the training and said the minutes he played against the Force in Perth was unreal. Just being in that semi-professional environment for six weeks has helped develop him as a player. Before he went away he had started to make his mark with some really strong runs. He is a smart player and knows exactly what to do. As a prop, do your role and do it well and that is all we ask of him.”
Uini’s return is one of two changes to the pack. Travis Brooke comes in at No.8 for James Johnston, who copped a high shot in the 29-22 win over Singleton.
“Jimmy is still not feeling 100 per cent so he will have a rest,” McCormack said.
Maitland sit in fourth spot on 47 points. Hamilton are top on 55 points, but only three points separates second-place Nelson Bay (49) to Merewether (46) in fifth. Hamilton, Maitland and Merewether have three games remaining. Nelson Bay and third-placed Wanderers (48) have two and a bye.
“This game could be the difference between us finishing top three or not,” Nelson Bay hooker Dan Collins said. “We need to win both our games and get a bonus point at least out of one.”
Chad Northcott returns at fullback and Rhys Dombkins comes in at No.8, from the Bay side which conceded 14-unanswered points to draw 27-all with Merewether.
“Chad is back from the Cook Islands and put in an extra session this week to get his hands on the ball and a bit more running underneath him,” Collins said. “Maitland have a big pack and if we can’t match them it doesn’t matter how good Chad is. Realistically we are going to have to take them up the middle. Even guys like Junior Polai and Mike Hotene, without room they will get shut down.”
The Gropers scored a late try to beat the Blacks 24-19 in atrocious conditions at Strong Oval in round eight.
“It does’t matter who Nelson Bay play their energy levels are high and they are a very spoiling side,” McCormack said. “You need to be able to match their energy and physicality. If you don’t it will be a tough day.”
Elsewhere Saturday, Hamilton take on Lake Macquarie at Walters Park, Merewether host University and Wanderers are away to Southern Beaches.