RETIRING Leeds Rhinos great Kylie Leuluai last night revealed he helped the club seal an historic treble while suffering from a troubling heart complaint that nearly made him quit.
The veteran prop ended his career in fitting style by winning the First Utility Super League Grand Final with the club for a sixth time following Saturday’s epic 22-20 win over Wigan Warriors.
Leeds’s nonagenarian president Harry Jepson described it as “the greatest night in this great club’s history” and it was hard to argue otherwise as living legends captain Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock also enjoyed perfect ends to their rugby league careers at a sold-out Old Trafford.
However, Leuluai, the West Yorkshire club’s most successful overseas import, admitted he almost missed it all after considering finishing early in August.
“I was very close to retiring after the Challenge Cup final,” said the New Zealander, who featured in that 50-0 triumph over Hull KR at Wembley, the first of their trophy haul, followed by the League Leaders’ Shield.
“It’s been a tough year and challenging. I really thought about it.
“I’ve had a few medical issues this season – I’ve had some trouble with my heart. I’ve ended up getting an irregular heartbeat and I’ve been taking medication for it since I did my shoulder (in March).
“Having an irregular heartbeat takes 20 per cent of the oxygen out of your blood, so it’s been very tough for me physically and has an effect mentally as well.
“That’s the reason why I’ve been playing shorter minutes.
“(Head coach) Brian McDermott and the club had an understanding and I don’t think I could do longer than the stints I was doing because of the implications.”
Leuluai, who has made 259 appearances for Leeds since joining from Manly in 2007, explained: “It started last year. The feeling I had was when I lactated within two minutes – I seized up and couldn’t move properly.
“It was really strange and a really tough time for me but Brian has been really good to me.
“He had faith in me to come back and finish the season off as I’m proud of my performances and wasn’t reaching the expectations I had of myself.
“Doing short stints, though, really helped me.”
Leuluai, restricted to just 18 games this term, could have had the issue corrected, but it would have effectively ended his career prematurely.
“You can get it shocked back into a regular rhythm,” he said.
“But I’ve had to wait as after you’ve had it you are out for three months because of the procedure and you have to go on medication.
“It’s quite common in cyclists but it’s strange for a rugby player to get it. I took the medication and thankfully it got me over the line.”
Leuluai, staying in Leeds with his family to take on a player welfare role at Headingley, admitted Saturday was the perfect way to sign off his stellar career which has also seen him win two Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenges with Rhinos.
“It makes it much better with Kev (Sinfield) and JP (Peacock) retiring at the same time as me,” he said.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to finish than with those two boys. It’s huge and I’m really happy. It’s been a tough season and no way could I do another year.
“The mental challenge and physical battle just to win one trophy is enough. Then to go again for the League Leaders’ and then again for this is unbelievable.”
Leuluai was sent up first to collect his winners’ ring and conceded: “That was great; it was a fitting moment and I didn’t expect it.
“I usually just go up last and file in the line. They told us to go first – I couldn’t think of a better way to finish. It really is a fairytale.
“Myself, JP and Kev said a few words in the dressing room after, just thanking the others for everything they’ve done for us. We told them how great it has been, even though this year has been really tough. I’ve no regrets whatsoever about retiring, though.
“You’ve got to remember I’m 37, nearly 38. I could’ve retired many times when I was ready to retire but I’m so glad the boys helped push me over the line this year.”
Leeds – the first side to complete the treble since St Helens in 2006 – have now set up a fascinating meeting with NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys in the World Club Challenge at Headingley on February 21.
First, though, they continued celebrations yesterday when Leuluai, Sinfield and Peacock were saluted at a special event at the city’s First Direct Arena.