TAULIMA Tautai is poised to be unleashed on St Helens - and he is an angry man.
But the explosive forward’s fury has not been fueled by derby rivalry or the prospect of an explosive duel with Mose Masoe... but because he’s lost his table-tennis bat!
“Mate, someone has nicked my bat,” he said.
“It’s rattled me! I bought a special bat, and someone has taken it.”
Tautai was seen prowling the training ground this week, trying to hunt down the perpetrator.
The 27-year-old had climbed the ranks of the table-tennis league at their Orrell base, second to “permanent No.1” Matty Bowen - before a team-mate struck!
“They’re jealous because I’ve been killing it,” he said.
You should know not to take my ping pong bat!”
Tautai arrived in the off-season and, after a bedding in period, has now shown the type of form which persuaded Shaun Wane to recruit him from Wakefield.
Tonight, he faces one of his biggest challenges yet.
With St Helens’ backline both depleted and disjointed - forward Jon Wilkin is operating as an emergency halfback - Wigan have identified the forwards battle as being crucial to the outcome.
While talented backs Paul Wellens, Tommy Makinson and Jonny Lomax are missing through injury, Saints boast a full contingent of middles.
The likes of Alex Walmsley, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Kyle Amor have earned plenty of plaudits for their performances this season, while Samoan wrecking-ball Masoe is sure to be targeted by Warriors’ hungry pack.
“I meet him around because he lives in St Helens, I live here, so we’ve caught up for the islander dinners,” said Sydney-born Tautai.
“Ali Lauitiiti (Wakefield forward) arranges them. He’s a senior guy out of all the islanders, and there are quite a few of us who go along now.
“It’s quite a big table - usually when we go to the restaurant they look at us and go, ‘oh no’, because all islanders like to eat!
“Mose is a completely different person, which is what you want in rugby league - a normal person off the field but a beast on it.
“I’ve definitely got a job on my hands.
“When we played last time on Good Friday, we spoke about dominating the middle, and it makes everyone else’s job easier if you can do that.
“This week it’s over there so it’s a different challenge altogether.”
Wigan’s pack is lighter but more mobile, and Ben Flower will surely be keen to make an impression against the team he last faced in that Grand Final.
Elsewhere, forwards John Bateman, Sean O’Loughlin and - especially - hooker Micky McIlorum have led a tigerish defensive efforts in back-to-back victories over Leeds and Huddersfield.
While Tautai stressed the importance of his role, he says he has the simpler task.
“My job is easy - run hard and tackle hard - it’s a no-brainer,” says the amicable prop.
“The halves and the full-back, they have the hard bit. Any success comes from them.”
Tautai cut his teeth in the NRL with Parramatta and Cronulla before moving to England, and says the 12-4 Good Friday win was a real eye-opener.
“When I came here, everyone knows that Wigan-Saints is massive,” he said.
“It was definitely one of those games I wanted to play in.
“We bring out the best in them, they bring out the best in us.
“Good Friday was one of the best wins I’ve had, playing over there will be different but hopefully we can get the win again.”