VETERAN FRONT-ROWER Kylie Leuluai had mixed feelings about his return to Leeds Rhinos action.
Leuluai underwent shoulder surgery following Rhinos’ defeat at Warrington Wolves on March 13, missing 13 games before returning against Castleford Tigers last week.
The 37-year-old, who has confirmed this will be his final season as a player, got through several spells off the substitutes’ bench, but admitted his main emotion was disappointment at Rhinos’ fifth defeat of the year.
“It has been a long time and it’s good to be back out there,” Leuluai said.
“The boys have been doing it tough this year, with me and Jonesy (Jamie Jones-Buchanan) and Frog (Brett Delaney) all being injured.
“I am just trying to get back up to speed.
“The worst thing about being injured, especially a long one like this, is you do pre-season all over again.
“Our conditioners Jason Davidson and Chris Black have done a great job getting me back up to speed and I just need to get my match fitness back now.”
Leuluai was one of Rhinos’ most impressive forwards in a below-par display, but he said: “I think everyone was tired!
“That made me look better than I was.
“It was just good to get back out there. Three months is a long time.”
Leulaui is now looking for a strong finish to his playing career, before taking up a behind-the-scenes role with Rhinos next year.
The Auckland-born former Samoan international joined Rhinos in 2007 and is the club’s most successful import, having won five Grand Finals, two World Club titles, the league leaders’ shield and the Challenge Cup.
He has played more games for Leeds – last week was his 247th appearance – than any other New Zealand-born signing and he insisted he will get better over the next few weeks.
“As each game goes by I will get a bit more match fitness and more rhythm going,” he predicted.
“My carries and my defence are a bit off the pace at the moment, but it will come with playing matches.”
The 31-24 defeat cast a cloud over Leuluai’s return.
Rhinos trailed 18-0 inside the first quarter, hit back to draw level with 10 minutes left, but then conceded a drop goal and converted try late on as Tigers sealed a famous win – their first at Leeds since 2010.
“Again, the boys did it tough, playing Sunday and then Thursday,” Leuluai said.
“But you can’t dwell on things like that, it is what you are dealt and you just have to get out there and do your best.
“I thought we could have gone on and won it, but we just made too many errors.
“You can’t give away that much ball against any team –you just make it tough on yourself.
“But that is part of the season, it is a rollercoaster and you have those highs and lows.
“You just have to ride it and we have to try and prepare well for these games coming up against Hull.”
Rhinos play host to the Black and Whites in Super League on Sunday and visit KC Stadium in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup five days later.
They then face their rivals for top spot, St Helens and Wigan Warriors in successive league fixtures.
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ under-19s got back to winning ways with a 30-22 victory over Hull KR at Stanningley.
Try scorers for Leeds were Nick Rawsthorn, Charlie Brown, Tommy Brierley, Ben Brady and Nathan Barker and Joe Sanderson booted five goals.