Kelepi Tanginoa of the Eels is tackled during the NRL Trial match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Centrebet Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Sydney, Australia.
Kelepi Tanginoa of the Eels is tackled during the NRL Trial match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Centrebet Stadium on February 23, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Matt Blyth / Getty Images

Tongan teen Kelepi Tanginoa a powerhouse for Parramatta

THE Bulldogs have one of the game's most destructive back rowers in hitman Tony Williams, but Parramatta is set to unleash its own wrecking ball when the teams clash at ANZ Stadium tonight.

Eels co-captain Reni Maitua said mild-mannered Tongan teenager Kelepi Tanginoa had a soft heart, but there was nothing soft about the way he played.

"He's a 19-year-old kid, he's got a great heart, great manners, but when he gets on that field we call him the Kelepenator," Maitua said.

"He's just a powerful character the way he carries the ball. Everything he does, he gives 110%.

"He's a machine in the gym and on the park."

Maitua went as far as to say Tanginoa had been a standout in the pre-season among a playing group desperate to impress new coach Ricky Stuart, describing him as "the benchmark for this whole squad".

Maitua also said Parramatta would continue its renewed emphasis on defence under Stuart despite the Bulldogs missing key forwards Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard and James Graham, not to mention 2012 Dally M winner Ben Barba.

"We were lacking confidence and probably team harmony, and Sticky (Stuart) and the rest of the coaching staff have brought that into the squad," Maitua said.

"Certainly our defence is a key focus for our year. Everything they (coaching staff) have given us in the pre-season transferred onto the field for round one, but the challenge is to do it every week."

While the Eels opened with an impressive 40-10 victory over the Warriors, the win came at a cost with Taniela Lasalo (broken arm) and Luke Kelly (hamstring) ruled out this week.

Maitau said it would have been nice to get some consistency in the line-up, but added there was a great vibe around the club this season.

"A happy group is a comfortable group. The boys are in a good frame of mind," he said.

Ben Barba
Ben Barba Getty Images

The good news for the Bulldogs yesterday was that Barba was back at training after his stint in a rehab facility to get on top of his alcohol and gambling issues.

While he didn't pull on his boots, the star fullback is expected to resume training this weekend and a return to the playing field could be just weeks away.

The club released a brief statement from Barba that read: "It was great to be back at Belmore today. The time away from footy has been helpful but I have missed it.

"It'll be great to be around my teammates again, I have missed their company over the past few weeks and I can't wait to get back out on to the training field."


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