Rhinos’ five-time Grand Final winning prop Kylie Leuluai will keep on playing until his body says otherwise. Peter Smith reports.
Veteran forward Kylie Leuluai insists he hasn’t lost any enthusiasm for the job at hand, despite approaching his 36th birthday.
When Rhinos faced Hunslet Hawks in this year’s Lazenby Cup, Leuluai – playing to get some game time under his belt – was older than Leeds’ numbers one and two – 17 year olds Ash Handley and Torin Longstaff – combined.
There’s no doubt playing in the engine room takes a punishing toll, physically and mentally, but Leuluai is still up for the battle and insists there are things in the game he has yet to achieve.
“I am looking forward to it,” said Leuluai, who joined Rhinos from Manly Sea Eagles in 2007 and is a five-time Grand Final winner.
“The season has come around quick, but I am looking forward to seeing how we go. This is the start of the journey. We have been through pre-season and now we need to bring the games on. We need to get some wins and some confidence.
“For me, every season is a big season and there’s always a challenge or a goal.
“You always want to get the best you can out of the season and from the game.
“I am approaching this one like I normally do and there are always areas you need to improve on.
“I am not the perfect player and unless you are, you have things to improve.”
Leuluai is on a rolling contract, which allows him to play on for as long as he – and the club – believe he can still do the job.
His front-row colleague Jamie Peacock last month signed an extension to the year which was remaining on his contract and announced 2015 will be his final season.
As for his own plans, the Auckland-born prop has yet to make a decision. He said: “I’ll see how I get through the first part of the year, then I will make a call.
“I am taking it season by season. My aim personally is to have a successful year and for the team to have one as well.
“I will do whatever I can as a team member to contribute to us being successful.”
Coach Brian McDermott has hailed Leuluai for the way he trained in pre-season and the former Samoa hardman admitted he has “put the hard yards in”.
He said: “You have to in pre-season. It is always a tough part of the year, nobody likes it, but this is where the hard work needs to be done.”
Last season was the first time during Leuluai’s spell with the club that Rhinos have not reached either the Grand Final or Challenge Cup decider.
That made it a bitterly disappointing campaign for the former champions, but Leuluai insisted: “In saying that, in terms of the season we had and the way we played, I think it was a successful year.
“Because we didn’t win silverware doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. We had a lot of injuries, but we finished higher than we had for the previous few years and that’s a great sign.
“If we had key personnel back at the right time of the year and they were match fit I think it would have been different.”
Rhinos are used to the pressure of being the title holders and having to peak for the World Club Challenge earlier in the campaign.
That burden – welcome as it is – is on Wigan Warriors’ shoulders this term. “It is always good to have that pressure, I would rather have it than not,” Leuluai admitted. “But this is a new challenge, like 2011 was. It is a long process, but it is something we look forward to and we will be working hard for. It makes it harder when you do win.”
Of how tough the competition will be this season, Leuluai predicted: “Very – it is always tough and of course it will be hard.
“It has to be, that’s sport. No sport ever gets easier.
“Teams always improve – Salford and St Helens look strong and it is not easy to pick who is going to be the top team, but that’s the same every year.
“Just because you have won the Super League final doesn’t mean you are going to go well the next year.”