Leeds Rhinos exclusive: Kylie Leuluai picks out the three highlights of his Headingley career and their golden era

Ross Heppenstall
Leeds Rhinos celebrate their 2015 Super League Grand Final win; Kylie Leuluai

Leeds Rhinos celebrate their 2015 Super League Grand Final win (Main Image); Kylie Leuluai in action (Circle) - Alamy

Kylie Leuluai is the most successful overseas player in Leeds Rhinos’ history having won six Grand Finals, two League Leaders’ Shields, two World titles and two Challenge Cup Finals between 2007 and 2015.

The Rhinos will always have a special place in his heart given what he achieved in the famous blue and amber jersey.

They signed the Auckland-born prop from Manly Sea Eagles ahead of the 2007 season, the first of Leeds’ three successive Super League title-winning campaigns.

Leuluai soon became a crowd favourite with Headingley’s South Standers in a side overflowing with world-class players.

“It was an unbelievable ride with so many highs,” Leuluai, 45, tells Love Rugby League of his legendary spell with Leeds.

“I never thought I’d even get to achieve one title, let alone six, in my lifetime as a rugby league player. I was very lucky that I was able to come into a team with like-minded men.

“We had all experienced a lot, we knew what worked for us as individuals and how to train in order to peak for games. We got the psychological approach right, and that started in pre-season, which then led into the season itself.

“We knew how to get into peak condition at the right time and we had a good work ethic. Yes, it was a very talented group, but we worked hard. I’d say that was probably the key to our success.”

Kylie Leuluai picks out his three highlights of his Leeds Rhinos career

The Rhinos beat St Helens in three consecutive Grand Finals between 2007 and 2009, and Leuluai started in the front-row in all three of those successful Old Trafford trips.

He formed a formidable pack alongside the likes of Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Ali Lauiti’iti while the iconic trio of Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Kevin Sinfield were the creative forces.

Leuluai played under Tony Smith and then Brian McClennan before Brian McDermott took the reins at the end of 2010.

The former Samoa international, who retired after Leeds’ glorious treble-winning campaign in 2015, added: “As players the trust we had in each other was huge.

“I knew that every time I took the field, the guy next to me was never going to let me down. That pretty much ran through the club and, when young kids came into the team, they did the job.

“It’s hard to explain, but it was about making sure we were in top shape and ready to go. We left no stone unturned and had an elite mindset with a never-say-die attitude.

“There are too many highlights to list, but three stand out – the 2012 World Club Challenge win over Manly, my old club, at Headingley because it was just an unbelievable atmosphere.

“The 2015 play-off semi-final against St Helens, my last home game which we won to get to Old Trafford, was also amazing.

“Playing New Zealand at Headingley just after the 2015 Grand Final was another very special occasion.”

Leuluai served as player welfare officer at Leeds following his retirement before leaving to join Warrington Wolves in 2017, where he now serves as head of rugby operations.

He might have left Leeds, but Leeds has not left him.

“The club is still massive to me and my three sons,” said Leuluai, now based in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

“They love the place because there are so many special memories of my time there. I played for the supporters and didn’t want to let them down. I was proud to play for Leeds Rhinos.”

‘I think Rob knows how much we love him’

Leeds Rhinos 2009 squad Alamy Kylie Leuluai played alongside Rob Burrow for many years at Leeds – Alamy

Leuluai is among a group of former team-mates who have supported Burrow since his diagnosis with motor neurone disease four years ago.

They visit him as much as possible and Leuluai explained: “I think Rob knows how much we love him. Before I did this interview actually, I was thinking about him.

“He’s such a busy guy now with various engagements and commitments for someone who is doing it so tough. Lindsey and his parents do a great job in chauffeuring him around, and Rob is so positive and so strong.

“He’s doing such a great job for the MND community in terms of raising awareness. As for Kev and his latest 7 in 7, I’m not surprised what he did.

“He’s definitely the fittest guy I ever played with, and what he’s done for Rob says everything about the brotherhood that exists between us from our time together at Leeds.”

Brian McDermott’s influence on Leeds’ era of dominance

Leuluai reckons McDermott’s influence on the Rhinos’ era of dominance was vital.

Now over in the NRL with Newcastle Knights as an assistant, McDermott remains the most successful coach in Super League history after guiding Leeds to four Grand Final wins.

“Mac was just a leader and I’ve had two great coaches, him and Des Hasler, who was very similar,” remembered Leuluai.

“They were tough men with good hearts who cared for their players. People say Brian wasn’t a good man-manager, but he was actually, especially with us older fellas. He trusted us to do the job. And we did.”

How will the Rhinos side get on in 2024?

Following the acquisition of Lachlan Miller, Paul Momirovski, Brodie Croft, Matt Frawley, Andy Ackers, Mickael Goudemand and Kieran Hudson, hopes are high that Leeds can enjoy a major upturn in 2024.

Leuluai said of his old club: “They’ve been disappointing for the last few years.

“The competition needs a strong Leeds and Warrington, because it’s healthy for Super League.

“Both clubs need to be up there challenging, and the Rhinos, with the signings they have made, will be more competitive this coming season, no doubt.”

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