Written by Callum Walker
Kylie Leuluai was born in Auckland, New Zealand. With an uncle such as Rugby League great James Leuluai, Kylie was always likely to have the sport running through his veins. And, so it proved.
Leuluai moved to England – and more specifically Leeds – ahead of the 2007 season after being something of a bit-part NRL player in the late 90s and early noughties. The monstrous forward had played just 21 games Down Under between 1999 and 2003 before becoming a regular at his last NRL club Manly Sea Eagles from 2004. For Manly, the fearsome number eight notched up 57 appearances, scoring four tries over the course of three seasons.
At the age of 29 and having failed to be a regular first-teamer for four out of his five clubs, it seemed as though the prop forward was coming to the UK for one last payday. This, however, could not have been further from the truth; Leuluai, until the end of 2015, was an integral part of Leeds’ Super League dominance with many calling himi Leeds’ greatest overseas prop forward of all time.
Over the period of nine seasons, the former Manly forward won six Grand Final titles, two World Club Challenges and two Challenge Cups to make him the most successful overseas player in Leeds’ history.
Leuluai made an impressive 258 appearances in a Rhinos‘ shirt and scored 22 tries. In every season after 2011, the forward announced that he would retire at the end of that year, only to reverse his plans and continue on into the next season. It was 2015 when Kyle finally hung up his boots after revealing that he had played that season with an irregular heartbeat.
It was a condition which made playing the game an incredible ask, but, one which firmly etched Leuluai into Leeds folklore. And, after a treble-winning season in 2015, he went out on a tremendous high, leaving behind a legacy which Leeds are still struggling to replicate.
He moved to Warrington as head of rugby operations in December 2017.
Though Leuluai played for the New Zealand Maori side in the 2000 World Cup, he is of Samoan descent. And, after playing for Samoa at the 2008 World Cup, he was then named Samoan Player of the Year in 2009. The prop also played two games for The Exiles in the short-lived origin series with England.
An absolute beast of a prop forward – weighing 107kg though standing at just 5 ft 10 – Leuluai was an ever-present in the team that brought about Leeds’ Super League supremacy. Leading from the front, the Samoan was the archetypal front rower – give him the ball, he will do some damage.
And, boy did he take some stopping. His desire to play the 2015 season – and play a major part in the Rhinos’ treble-winning exploits – despite health concerns outlined just how desperate he was to give blood, sweat and tears for one last year with Leeds.
Despite his ferocity on the field, off it, Leuluai was one of the most humble men in Rugby League. The contrast between his temperament and attitude whilst playing to that he displayed in his private life was most remarkable.