Wigan forward Taulima Tautai is confident he will not freeze in the biggest game of his career after going through a dummy run 12 months ago.
Tautai was left out of the Warriors team for last year’s Grand Final against Leeds but got to experience the unique atmosphere generated by a sell-out 73,512 crowd close up.
And the 28-year-old says that will stand him in good stead when he runs out against Warrington at Old Trafford on Saturday.
“I was watching from the bench last year but, to be fair, I think it was like a blessing in disguise,” he said. “That atmosphere was crazy, I’ve never ever experienced anything like that before.
“I think it would have been a bit of shock to the system to run out and have all those fans cheering you on and just being so loud, maybe it would have got my head away from the game a bit.
“I think having that preparation at the back of my head already is going to help me on Saturday. This is my biggest game by far and I know how to prepare for it now.”
Tautai, who joined Wigan from Wakefield at the end of 2014, had no complaints about being ignored by coach Shaun Wane 12 months ago after struggling through his first season and picking up an untimely three-match ban towards the end of it.
The Sydney-born former Parramatta and Cronulla player, who is easily recognisable by his trademark pony tail, made 27 appearances in 2015 but incurred the wrath of the fans for the number of penalties he gave away.
Tautai says he has rectified the problem this year, not by specifically working on his discipline but by improving his fitness.
“I think last year was a stepping stone,” he said. “It took me a while to adjust to the way Wigan play and the culture. I’m a relaxed person and to come here and have this very intense training, in a different environment, was a bit of a shock.
“I think the penalties last year were just because I was unfit and I wasn’t really used to the way they play and the speed of the game as well. That was something I worked hard on in the off-season and now I’m benefiting from the rewards.
“I’m one of those people who is quite naturally strong but fitness isn’t really my forte so I worked on that this year.
“I was pretty fit when I was playing on the wing but I was only 100 kilos wet back then.”
Wigan will need all of Tautai’s impressive physical presence if they are to avoid a third successive Grand Final defeat.
He has identified Warrington’s front row of Chris Hill, Daryl Clark and Ashton Sims as the biggest threats.
“They’re a quality team, with Hill, Clark and Sims in the middle, that’s where their strength is,” Tautai said.”We believe if we can control their middle, we can get the trophy but I think it’s going to be a very close game.”