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Tuuta Comes Out Of His Cocoon With A Halo

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday July 14, 1989


ROTORUA: The New Zealand management broke down the defensive wall around lock forward Brendon Tuuta when it allowed him to speak publicly yesterday.

Tuuta had been cocooned since his controversial debut in which he appeared to knee Australian lock Paul Vautin in last Sunday's first Test in Christchurch.

A sting came in the tail of yesterday's media conference.

Asked if he would retaliate if the Australians sought retribution, Tuuta said: "I won't be taking it".

Tuuta claimed innocence over the Vautin incident.

"I tried to jump over him and his head came up," Tuuta said.

"I didn't go out to knee him in the head. He's too good a player for that.

It was a nervous, almost febrile Tuuta who faced questioners - inquisitors?- after five days in which he has been the most famous Rugby League player on either side of the Tasman.

Prop forward teammate, Brent Todd, called from across the room, amid the questions: "You're a star; you've turned into a legend overnight."

Tuuta said he had been protected and supported by the older, more experienced players this week.

"I've just got to take it on the chin and see how it goes," he said of the reaction to the first Test and his expectations of Sunday's second Test at the Rotorua International Stadium.

"I'll still go out to play good, hard football. I'm looking forward to it.

Garry Freeman is not a stranger to notoriety. Freeman said of the Tuuta treatment: "It sucks. They build him up and then tear him down; the pressure put on him ...".

Tuuta said he had phoned Western Suburbs team manager Martin Wilson through the week and had been told: "It's been blown out of all proportion; so why are you in the side."

Tuuta said Test football had been a lot harder and faster than he expected

He said the Australians had got in some niggling work of their own, but said he didn't expect retribution because the Australians were too good a players.

Australian coach Bob Fulton says almost daily there can be three results in a match: a win, a draw or a loss.

That's either prosaicly profound or profoundly prosaic, to just paraphrase Fulton, there can be three results for Tuuta on Sunday.

He can repeat his first Test effort - which would be a serious and possibly fatal setback to his career - and secondly, he can just put his ability on show.

The worst possibility is that he will be so inhibited his contribution will be minimal in any area.

The Tuuta performance should be essentially a sideshow, because the result won't hinge on his contribution.

Prop Todd summed up New Zealand's chances as being "as long as we don't worry about how tough we are".

"If we go out to belt them we'll go nowhere," he said. "You can't tell me Sam Backo and Steve Roach are going to worry about a punch. We've just got to worry about playing football."

Auckland showed the potential dividends of playing football when they upset Australia 26-24 on Wednesday night.

New Zealand have had an extra week's preparation and will undoubtedly improve on their first Test performance.

Coach Tony Gordon has pinpointed an improvement through less mistakes, more cohesion and more work from the centres.

The Kiwis also have plenty of Aucklanders jostling for their places, the most prominent being five-eighth Kelly Shelford, who surely can't be denied a place in the third Test.

But any improvement is unlikely to be enough.

Roach, Paul Sironen and Kerrod Walters return to the forwards and the Kiwis have no-one to match them.

Still, Wally Lewis is likely to be the dominating presence.

Lewis did the inspirational things when needed in the first Test but it wasn't one of his great ones.

The King has said football is a simple game. "It's about counting numbers.

Lewis got his sums wrong a few times when taking the wrong options last Sunday.

He won't do it twice. The feeling is that the most skilled of performers will again show his sense of occasion.

The forwards would lay the foundations again, said Fulton "as long as we put the skill on the line".

Made more specific, that skill means Walters will vary his dummy half plays and there will be lots of decoys to ensure the likes of Sironen and Roach are faced with just one defender in front of them.

That should be almost enough. Lewis will allow the backs to perform the spectacular finales.

© 1989 Sydney Morning Herald

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