Lui has starred in both the NRL and Super League, but believes his life could have been much different had it not been for rugby league. “If it wasn’t for the game, I reckon I’d be back home, and I don’t know what I’d been doing – I’d probably be in jail or somewhere,” he said
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 21/09/21 9:18pm
Rob Lui has enjoyed an 11-year career at the highest level of rugby league, but the retiring Leeds Rhinos half-back is in no doubt his life could have been much different had it not been for the sport he loves.
The 31-year-old has starred in both the NRL and Super League, first with Wests Tigers and then in his home city of Townsville with North Queensland Cowboys, followed by moving across the world to the UK with Salford Red Devils in 2016 before switching to Leeds two and a half years ago.
His time with Wests, however, ended in 2011 when he was released after being charged with assaulting his former partner – an offence which he later pled guilty to, being fined and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond as well as being handed a lengthy suspension by the NRL as a consequence.
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Since then, Lui has turned both his life and playing career around and, as he prepares to hang up his boots at the end of the 2021 season, he looks back and thinks how much rugby league – and particularly his move to Super League five years ago – has otherwise helped him avoid a life of crime.
“Super League probably saved my career,” Lui said. “I came down here, had a few dramas back home, but Super League has made me find my love for rugby league again.
“That’s why I’ve stayed here; I’ve enjoyed it, it’s made me a better father, made me a better person and you meet new people.
“I’ve had my ups, I’ve had my downs and I’ve been at my low point, but then rugby league has brought me back to my high point.
If it wasn’t for the game, I reckon I’d be back home, and I don’t know what I’d been doing – I’d probably be in jail or somewhere.
Leeds’ Rob Lui
“If it wasn’t for the game, I reckon I’d be back home, and I don’t know what I’d been doing – I’d probably be in jail or somewhere.”
Lui’s decision to call time on his top-level professional career was largely motivated by the desire to bring up his young family back home to Australia and be closer to their relatives after nearly six years on these shores, although he still hopes to keep playing at part-time level in Queensland.
He wants to turn his attention to helping youngsters through rugby league as well, using his experiences to show where the sport can take them if they dedicate themselves to it, along with having the possibility of pursuing off-field careers as either a teacher’s aide at his old school or in the field of youth justice.
Lui has already been passing advice on to the next generation at the Rhinos, where he enthuses about the likes of 17-year-old forward Morgan Gannon and 21-year-old centre Harry Newman, after taking on something of a mentor role for the club’s youngsters soon after joining.
“I came from Salford where there were heaps of older fellas and when I came to Leeds there were heaps of young kids who just wanted everything and wanted to be the best,” Lui said.
“That made me into the role I have now and, for me, if I take that back home, I can tell them if you put your mind to something you can end up around the world thanks to rugby league.
“I’m all about their game and how I get the best out of them, but it’s about the off-field stuff too. As a young kid when you’re not getting picked, it hurts, and I’ve been there. I just say to them they’ve got to keep working and take their opportunity when it comes with both hands and it has happened for most of them.
“If I can leave my print on then, it’s just to be relaxed about everything and don’t take your footy home. When you’re at home, relax, but when you’re at training that’s your job and what you’ve got to give your all to.”
Lui has already played his final game at Leeds’ Emerald Headingley home, scoring a fine solo try in the 36-12 win over Hull Kingston Rovers last Friday in the final round of Super League’s regular season.
He is determined to ensure Thursday’s trip to Wigan Warriors in the elimination play-off, live on Sky Sports, will not be the last time he pulls on a Leeds shirt either and adding a Grand Final winners’ ring to last year’s Challenge Cup final success would be the dream way to bow out.
Whatever happens in the play-offs though, Lui will look back with great fondness on his two-and-a-half years playing for the Rhinos after being a key part of their revival under Richard Agar’s stewardship.
“It’s been an emotional ride,” Lui said. “I came here when Leeds weren’t going too good and, to be honest, they just needed a couple of old heads to get the best out of each player.
I’ve loved this city and the people here – they’ve made me their own and support us no matter what when we win or lose.
Rob Lui on his time with Leeds
“It’s been the best time of my life; going to Wembley, even though there were no fans, it felt loud and the pressure was on us and you could see after we won the game we were in shock because we’d never felt like that as a group.
“The year before that, we were fighting relegation and then fast forward and we’re at Wembley. The club is at a good place now, I believe, and good juniors are the key.
“I’ve loved this city and the people here – they’ve made me their own and support us no matter what when we win or lose.”