HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS coach Paul Anderson is urging fans to read nothing into the non-appearance once again of overseas signing Ukuma Ta’ai.
The 26-year-old Tongan back-row forward has been restricted to just a couple of briefs spells in the opening 10 rounds of Super League XVIII.
The former New Zealand Warrior is again a notable omission from the Giants’ 19-man squad for today’s trip to Castleford Tigers.
But Anderson has made it clear that’s not a reflection on Ta’ai’s ability, and he insists it won’t be too long before everyone will see the explosive forward firing on all cylinders.
"When Ukuma’s arrival was delayed through red tape and he ended up missing all of pre-season, we did fear the worst," said Anderson (inset).
"It was always our intention to take the players to hell and back during pre-season and make sure it was the toughest they’d ever encountered.
"Our game is based on physicality, so we were always going to work the players incredibly hard.
"The players all responded to that, and their fitness levels are now exceptionally high, and we’d like to think that’s been reflected into the start to the season we’ve made.
"That was the environment Ukuma walked into a couple of months ago, and it must have been pretty overwhelming for him. It must have been a shock to his system.
"Even though he had been working back home with a personal trainer, it still meant he was eight, nine, 10 weeks behind the rest of the boys, and that’s something you can’t make up overnight.
"Unfortunately, we’ve seen in the brief appearances he has made that he’s still some way behind the rest of the players when it comes to his fitness.
"But he is slowly but surely catching up, but we’ve made it a deliberate intention not to rush him.
"At the moment, he’s working on a one-to-one basis with (head conditioner) Greg Brown and continues to improve all the time.
"At the end of the day, we want to see Ukuma playing well in August, September and October when it really matters."
And Anderson knows he can also hold Ukuma back because the rest of his teammates are doing such a good job in his absence.
"We’ve obviously made a promising start to the season, with back-row an area where we’re not exactly lacking in depth," added Anderson.
"That’s meant we have had the luxury of not having to push Ukuma hard and put undue pressure on him to get out there.
"It’s also meant he’s had a bit more time to settle in to his new environment, and I know how pleased he is that he’s found a family home within five minutes of the stadium.
"To be honest, I think the biggest challenge he’s faced since he arrived here has been the awful weather we’ve just encountered.
"All this snow and ice has been tough for everyone, so just imagine how big a shock it’s been to Ukuma, who hadn’t seen even seen snow until a few months ago!
"But that’s still failed to knock the smile off his face.
"Even though it’s been a tough start to his time here, he’s still playing a full part in training, where he’s had the chance to demonstrate the considerable rugby league skills he possesses.
"I don’t think there’s a single person at the club who doesn’t think he’ll make a massive impact when the time is right."