Pat Lam has hailed the February transformation of his Fijian winger Siva Naulago who went from generally being in the wrong places on the pitch in the Bristol defeat to Sale to lighting up the Brentford Community Stadium last Sunday with a two-try burst that included a ‘worldie’ of a score that was voted Gallagher Premiership try of the weekend.

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It can be quite a difficult task for rugby league talents at a professional level to seamlessly cross over into union and the 29-year-old Naulago has encountered his own teething issues after joining Bristol following two years in Super League in England with Hull.

He went straight from the end of the 2020 Super League season into the 2020/21 Premiership campaign without having the benefit of a pre-season to help him get up to speed with switching back to a code he had previously played at an amateur level before heading into the paid ranks of rugby league.

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However, Lam has spoken of his admiration for Naulago to learn his new trade while on temporary release from active service as a soldier in the British army. The Bristol boss was especially thrilled with the fireworks produced last weekend in London, particularly the interplay that Naulago fashioned with Charles Piutau to create a memorable first-half score.

“We have been really pleased,” enthused Lam about the rugby league recruit who made his Bristol debut in the December Champions Cup loss to Clermont before making his bow in the Premiership on Boxing Day. “He is a British soldier and when I met with him he was impressive.

“I’m not talking about the rugby player, off the field, with him and his wife, he was keen to come to rugby, keen to come to us but we were impressed, he has been in the front line as well and you could just see the discipline, naturally from a serviceman, and then you have got to also remember through Covid that Super Rugby went on longer so he hasn’t had a pre-season.

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“He went on the whole Super League season and then came off that. The next week after he finished his last game for Hull he trained with us and he has shown glimpses. Then after the Sale game, we realised actually there is still a bit of work that he needs to do.

“Myself and Conor McPhillips, we went right through his game on the big screen and just focused on where he was going defensively and positionally. You realised this guy’s work rate is phenomenal but he is just in the wrong place. We were able to go through it, work it for him, ask him the questions, and you could just see him go, ‘Ah, okay, wow, I can see it, I can do this’.

“We were able to guide him through it and then we put him out on the weekend and honestly, talk about coachable, he did everything. The improvement was phenomenal because of that process, more the fact that we asked the questions and he was extremely coachable and picked it up fast.

“Like today [Wednesday] is a down day and I saw him down in the gym doing some extra work on his rehab, prehab. When he broke out he had a phenomenal time on the intercept and was cruising, there were some quick guys that were chasing him and he was cruising, so he is a real asset for us and I am pleased to have him.”

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Naulago will now make his eighth appearance for Bristol in Saturday’s Premiership game at home to Leicester and Lam is salivating about what his Fijian winger might next produce. “Everyone has the ability to learn. I know it is a stereotype, maybe a generalisation, but when you’re a serviceman it is all based on discipline.

“It takes special people to be disciplined, to listen to the instructions, and certainly in the army it is vital, but the fact is that he loves the game, he loves the guys around here, he has become very popular and he just wants to do so well for himself, his mates and the Bears. He is hungry to get better which is a great asset.”

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