BIG BEN TE’O was an intriguing signing by Matt O’Connor last summer, but there was some doubt around whether or not the rugby league star could make a successful transition back into union.
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Despite the 28-year-old having grown up in the 15-man code, the excitement at an unexpected new face was matched with an initial scepticism about his ability to thrive in the province’s famous 13 shirt.
Te’o breaks the line against Ulster last season. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
As it turned out, Te’o was a success after the early setback of a broken arm and he looked very dangerous again last weekend as Leinster opened their season with a defeat away to Edinburgh.
All the signs so far have been that Te’o continues to adapt well to union, but the problem is that his contract expires at the end of the current season and already the expectation in Australia is that the once-capped Samoan international will make his return to the NRL in 2016.
That prospect is unlikely to be welcomed by his fans at Leinster, but for now head coach Leo Cullen is enjoying getting a chance to work with the centre.
“He then went into a situation here where he broke his arm. His progress was stunted from the off, so it’s been nice to be able to work with Benny all through the pre-season.
“There was some good, some bad (against Edinburgh), but that was an indication of all of us in terms of performance.”
A scything break in the second half from deep in Leinster’s territory underlined the acceleration and power through contact Te’o possesses, while his impact in the tackle was once again strong.
Te’o at Leinster training in UCD. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
There perhaps remain learnings in terms of defensive positioning and decision-making, but Cullen recognises the fact that Te’o will be a key source of go-forward in attack for Leinster this season.
“He’s got some special talents,” said Cullen. “He’s got great physical attributes and he’s very threatening when he’s on the ball.”
The summer months saw the Australian press link Te’o with a return to the NRL in 2016, with some reports suggesting that the New Zealand native’s agent has been sounding out a move.
A return to the Rabbitohs is one mooted possibility, while the North Queensland Cowboys have also been mentioned.
For Leinster’s part, head coach Cullen confirmed that the province has been speaking with Te’o about his future, but suggested that the centre still has plenty to prove as a union player.
“We’ve talked to Benny over the last couple of weeks and months,” said Cullen. “We’re keen to see how he progresses. He’s contracted obviously for this year and then we’ll see what happens beyond that.”
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