Toopi signs NRL deal with Titans
CHRIS BARCLAYMarch 5, 2010
Former Warriors centre Clinton Toopi is poised to make a surprise NRL comeback with the Gold Coast Titans against the club where he made his name.
The former New Zealand international is vying for a backline berth alongside double international Mat Rogers when the Titans host the Warriors in the opening round match of the season next Sunday.
Toopi, 29, inked a one-year deal with the Titans on Thursday despite reservations about the state of his injury-ravaged knees - and the realisation his wife and two daughters in New Zealand.
Capped 21 times for the Kiwis between 2002 and 2007, Toopi's career seemed on the wane once he ended his 129-game first grade career at the Warriors and relocated to the English Super League and Leeds at the end of the 2006 season.
Injuries confined him to just 15 games before he was released in 2008 - he then returned home to briefly switch codes to play rugby for Bay of Plenty.
Toopi was named in the Steamers' Air NZ Cup squad last year but more injury issues effectively sidelined him after the pre-season trials.
Toopi was offered an NRL lifeline by the Titans in November and showed enough glimpses of class in trial matches against the Broncos, Rabbitohs and Cowboys to be offered a contract.
"Before he played a trial we knew we wanted to keep him," Titans football manager Scott Clark told NZPA.
Clark admitted signing Toopi, who made his NRL debut and the first of 119 appearances for the Warriors in 1999, was a risk given his medical history though the club says his value will also be apparent off the field.
"We've been asking him to help the younger Polynesian guys (in the club)," Clark said.
"They all sort of hang together and sometimes they don't do everything we ask them. Clinton's been a good role model. He kicks them up the arse a few times.
"He's gained so much respect in such a short time. He rips in at training, he's never late for anything .... we can't ask for any more of him really."
Toopi finds himself in competition with one of the rookies he is tasked with mentoring for a centre spot against the Warriors - 20-year-old Wellington-born Melbourne Storm recruit Joseph Tomane.
Toopi confessed shortly after arriving at the Titans that the separation from his family might prove too hard to bear, but so far so good.
"It's something Clinton is concerned about but we're trying to work through it," Clark said.
"He won't get back (to NZ) too often, on the bye weeks perhaps, and there may be times when we've got a longer turn around and he could slip back for a day or two here and there."
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