COMPETITION for places is strong at The Wire – and it is something Sitaleki Akauola is relishing.

After spending the early part of the season playing Championship rugby for Rochdale Hornets on dual registration and recovering from a knee ligament injury, the Tongan has catapulted himself back into the first-team picture.

He marked his first Wire appearance of the season with a try in the 54-6 hammering of Hull KR on Easter Monday – a display that saw him earn one Man of Steel point.

However, the 27-year-old knows he cannot rest on his laurels.

“It’s pretty exciting for me to get out there. It’s been a long time coming but it has been worth the wait,” he said.

“We’ve got a quality squad. With so many players here you have to perform to your potential week in, week out so I’ve got to keep hammering away.

“For me personally, it has been a challenge getting into the team but it’s a challenge I like.

“Making the 17 week in week out is hard and you have to put your best foot forward every day.”

Having joined from Penrith Panthers ahead of last season, several displays of impressive physicality and power quickly saw Akauola become a fans’ favourite.

However, his unconventional technique sometimes saw him on the disciplinary charts and serve several suspensions, including one that forced him to sit out the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

He says it has all been part of a learning curve for him and revealed the ways in which he has tried to develop his game.

Warrington Guardian:

Akauola marked his first appearance of 2019 with a try at Hull KR on Easter Monday. Picture by Mike Boden

“I’ve been working hard on what I do when the ball goes away from me and the little one-percenters to improve,” he said.

“The two interchanges that have been taken away is a big thing.

“We’ve been working hard as a middle unit and doing extras to make sure we’re fitter and can do longer minutes.”

“My whole time in England has been a bit of a learning experience for me, on and off the pitch.

“It’s been tough at times but you don’t grow if you don’t go through it.”

Off the field, Akauola can often be seen with teammate and fellow Tongan international Ben Murdoch-Masila.

The two were teammates at Wests Tigers in the NRL but their friendship has blossomed here in England.

“Having Ben by my side since I’ve been here has been brilliant,” he said.

“We’ve got a great bond and he’s basically family. Playing out there with him is like playing alongside a brother.

“Seeing him pushing on makes me want to push myself even more.

“Having Lama (Tasi) here too is brilliant and we’re all good mates.”