Leuluai aims to delay retirement and complete decade with Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos' Kylie Leuluai. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Leeds Rhinos' Kylie Leuluai. (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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KYLIE LEULUAI thought as long ago as 2003 that “this would be my last year” so it should come as no surprise that the Leeds Rhinos veteran is already thinking about playing on until the end of 2016.

The durable prop will be 37 next and has been on a “rolling” contract for the West Yorkshire club for the last three years as both parties decide each time whether he can muster up yet again for another campaign.

That decision does not ordinarily come until well into the year as Leuluai – Leeds’s most successful overseas signing of all time – sees how his body fares with the demanding rigours of professional football once more.

Yet, before a ball has even been carried with the season not kicking off until Sunday’s game at Hull KR, the New Zealander has already declared he knows he wants to carry on again into a 10th campaign at Headingley.

“My wife was shocked when I told her,” said Leuluai, who joined from Manly Sea Eagles in 2007 and initially planned to retire after the last of his five Grand Finals wins with Leeds in 2012.

“She was like ‘What?!’ I suppose she sees me after a tough game or a tough training session trying to recover.

“Obviously medical science has improved over the years but there’s only so much that can do.

“I have loved this pre-season, though, every minute of it, even the tough sessions, as I know it could be my last.

“I know I might never get this feeling again – being flogged like a horse or treated like a dog.”

Leuluai is closing in on 250 games for Leeds but admits there was a time before his Super League odyssey when he nearly packed it all in.

“2003 was the first time I said it was going to be my last year,” he recalled.

“I was at Parramatta Eels and had just come off a (knee) reconstruction. Obviously, my fitness wasn’t good and I did not have a club either so I just thought ‘I’m done’.

“But then Manly came in last minute and I moved over there. It’s such a beautiful area – similar to where I’m from in New Zealand – and it just gave me a whole new lease of life.

“The coach Dessie Hasler and the trainer – who’s still there – Donny Singe are just great people to work for, people that push you and people you want to push for.

“If that hadn’t have happened, I’d have been back home in New Zealand for sure. I’ve been brought up in the building industry. My dad was a builder and one of my brothers is, too, and I love that game.

“I’m just enjoying the moment now. Whatever happens at the end of the year will take care of itself. I’m treating it like it’s my last like I have done for the last three years as anything can happen in sport. I don’t take it for granted.”

A case in point is the situation of two of his long-time front-row colleagues at Leeds.

In the space of just five days last autumn, Ryan Bailey and Ian Kirke, who both lined up alongside Leuluai in each of those five Old Trafford successes, were surprisingly moved on to Hull KR and Wakefield Trinity, respectively.

What did he think then?

“I thought I might get another year after all,” laughed Leuluai.

“It’s sport and unfortunate but that’s what happens and that’s why I say you can’t take anything for granted.

“Four months ago, they were in the same changing shed as us and I’ve been sat next to them for the last eight years. I’m used to having them around. No one knew they were going.

“We weren’t told as players. It was all in the off-season so was a big shock and that’s why you’ve got to enjoy your moments. And in life, too.”

Ironically, Leuluai will be up against Bailey – renowned as one of Super League’s most aggressive types – on Sunday but what is his erstwhile colleague really like?

“He’s a nice bloke and a good bloke,” he said.

“He might be all fiery on the field but in the locker-room he’s great. It’s just like Gaz Hock. You see him on the TV like that but he’s a nice bloke, too.

“This is Bails’s club, though, and he’ll be out to get somebody – or to get the club back.

“He’s competitive. It’ll be strange playing against him as we’ve been with him so long and he’s such a good mate of ours.”

Meanwhile, Leuluai has another reason to stay in his adopted home of Yorkshire a little longer.

His son Marley is currently thriving in another sport – on the books of Premier League champions Manchester City.

“He’s there until Under-11s so has a couple more years yet,” he said. “We’ll probably stay until then and see how goes. He’s still so young and it’s sport; anything can happen in sport.

“But he enjoys it. It’s an amazing facility, we enjoy taking him and being part of such a great club. It’s a totally different world to rugby and he’s very fortunate to be a part of it.”