The Warriors have pulled off one of 2016’s most intriguing signings in the shape of 36-year-old club great Ali Lauitiiti, who has inked a one-year deal to return to Auckland after 12 seasons in Super League.
The ball-playing second-rower, famously dubbed the ‘Michael Jordan of rugby league’ by his first Warriors coach, Mark Graham, will rejoin the side he began his first grade career with in 1998 on a second-tier contract.
Lauitiiti made his NRL debut as an 18-year-old and played the first of 18 Tests for New Zealand in 2000. He rivalled Gorden Tallis as the game’s dominant backrower at one stage, claiming the Dally M Second-rower of the Year gong in 2002 before helping the Warriors reach their maiden grand final.
But after 115 games for the Warriors, in which he crossed for 33 tries, Lauitiiti left the club early in its disastrous 2004 campaign that also saw coach Daniel Anderson depart mid-season.
Lauitiiti played 200 games for Leeds Rhinos from 2004-11, winning four Super League grand finals. He spent the past four seasons with Wakefield Trinity, but recently guested for Leeds in their match against the touring Kiwis – several of whom Lauitiiti will link with at the Warriors next year.
If he takes the field at NRL level in 2016, the evergreen forward will be the oldest player in the competition, while he will enter the record books for having the second-longest first grade career span in premiership history. St George and North Sydney stalwart Billy Wilson holds the record with a career spanning 20 seasons (1948-67); Lauitiiti is on track to extend his NRL career span to 19 seasons, overtaking modern stars Andrew Ettingshausen, Jason Smith and Craig Gower, whose careers spanned 18 seasons.