LEEDS RHINOS’ Grand Final victory was the perfect finale for retiring prop-forward Kylie Leuluai, but he has revealed it almost did not happen.
Speaking after Leeds’ 22-20 win over Wigan Warriors, Leuluai told The Yorkshire Evening Post he has been dealing with an irregular heartbeat.
And the most successful overseas player in Rhinos’ history revealed he came close to hanging up his boots following the Challenge Cup final triumph against Hull KR six weeks ago.
Leuluai, who missed 12 games in the middle of the campaign due to a shoulder injury, confirmed: “I was very close to retiring after the Challenge Cup final.
“It has 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.
“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 it has an effect mentally as well.
“That’s the reason why I’ve been playing shorter minutes. Brian McDermott [Rhinos’ coach] 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 continued: “It started last year.
“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 I wasn’t reaching the expectations I had of myself.
“But doing short stints really helped me.”
Leuluai insisted there are no long-term fears for his health.
He said: “You can get it shocked back into a regular rhythm, but I’ve had to wait as, after you’ve had it, you have to be out for three months because of the procedure and you have to go on medication. It’s quite common in cyclists they reckon, but it’s strange for a rugby player to get it.
“I took the medication and thankfully it got me over the line.”
Saturday was Leuluai’s seventh Grand Final victory and he said there is no chance of him being tempted to play on next year.
“It has been a tough season and no way could I do another year,” he stated. “The mental challenge and the physical battle just to win one trophy is enough.
“Then to go again for the league leaders’ and then again for this is unbelievable. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish.
“I have no regrets whatsoever about retiring. You’ve got to remember I’m 37, I could have retired many times when I was ready to retire.
“But I’m so glad the boys helped push me over the line this year.”
Leuluai has also featured in two Challenge Cup wins and two World Club triumphs as well as being on a league leading team twice during his Headingley career.
“Every occasion has been huge since I’ve been at the club over the past nine years,” he said.
“I don’t know how many trophies I’ve won off the top of my head, but that feeling you get after the game is immense.
“It makes it much better with Kev (Sinfield) and JP (Jamie Peacock) retiring at the same time as me.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to finish than with those two boys. It’s huge and I’m really happy.”
Leuluai, who is expected to play against New Zealand at Headingley on October 23, is not leaving the club.
He will now begin a new role as player welfare officer and he said that is a challenge he is relishing.
“I’m really looking forward to it, to be a support system for the players,” he said.
“Not only mentally, but preparing them for life after rugby through education and work experience.
“I want to prepare them for whatever can happen as nothing is guaranteed.
“I didn’t have it at the start of my career as it didn’t come into the NRL until the early 2000s and its huge back there now.
“The club’s been good on its part as it’s had a partnership with Leeds Beckett (university).
“The club’s really on top of that kind of stuff.”