Akuila Uate will be back playing representative football for Country against City on Sunday. Picture: Jonathan CarrollTHREE years ago, Akuila Uate could not put a foot wrong.
The Newcastle Knights speedster had just won his third consecutive Dally M winger of the year award to go with his accolade in 2011 as the world’s best player in the same position.
He chalked up five Origin matches for NSW, a fitting reward for scoring 59 tries in 69 appearances between 2010 and 2012.
Fast forward two years to 2014 and Uate was making a return from a serious knee injury in the NSW Cup, and was unsure if he would ever play another representative game of football.
Now that he gets a chance to impress Blues coach Laurie Daley in a City-Country fixture on Sunday, Uate is adamant he will be making up for lost time.
‘‘I’m never going to give up on anything,’’ Uate said.
‘‘It’s been an honour to be back in the Country team, to be picked and play again.
‘‘I’m just happy to be here and playing for Country. The last few years I haven’t, so it’s good to be playing.’’
As for being debilitated by injury in the prime of his career, Uate said he accepted then coach Wayne Bennett’s decision to make him play NSW Cup to get his body right and form up to first-grade standard.
‘‘I wanted to go back to reserve grade,’’ Uate said.
‘‘They asked me to, but I wasn’t kicking stones. I went back and did my best playing reserve grade and I never looked back, I never put my head down or sooked about getting dropped to reserve grade. I just kept going forward and kept working on little things.
‘‘You just go back and you get your confidence back and fight for your spot to get back in first grade and I was really happy doing that.’’
On Sunday, the other side of the field will be occupied by Uate’s Newcastle teammate and fellow Country representative James McManus, whose try-scoring efforts have dried up since his last Origin match in game three last year.
With Brett Morris set to be ruled out for at least one Origin match, the frontrunners for a spot on the wing appear to be Daniel Tupou (Roosters), Josh Mansour (Penrith) and Alex Johnston (South Sydney).
Uate said there would not be any rivalry between himself and McManus when they ran out on Sunday afternoon. And, despite being outsider for an Origin recall, the 27-year-old was remaining optimistic.
‘‘I hope so [to play Origin]. I’m never giving up on anything,’’ he said. ‘‘This year now I have started off really well and it’s been really good.
‘‘I’m not the one who is picking the team. I’m just here to play well, and hopefully whatever comes, it comes.’’