Family business faces crunch as Leuluais prepare for battle

Loyalties of biggest clan in rugby league will be tested tonight as cousins go head to head for a place in the Grand Final. By Dave Hadfield

It is a complicated business being one of rugby league's Leuluai family this weekend. The game's biggest clan has three members all playing in their biggest games of the season. Wigan's Thomas and his cousin, Leeds' Kylie, are up against each other for a place in the Super League Grand Final tonight.

Watching them from the stand at Headingley will be their uncle Phillip, who has his own big day on Sunday, when he plays for Salford against the Celtic Crusaders in the National League One Grand Final. Needless to say, Tommy and Kylie will be at Warrington for that one. It goes with the territory when you're a Leuluai.

The family's roots are in Samoa, where Phil's parents were both born, but he grew up in south Auckland, the next-to-youngest of nine brothers. The eldest was James, a regular New Zealand international and a favourite at Hull, for whom he played in the classic 1985 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. The young Phillip was allowed to stay up late to watch and remembers a childhood in which rugby league played a massive part.

"I just remember us as a big, happy family, out there playing all the time; we were never an indoors family. I don't know about life being tough, but when you're the eighth out of nine there were a lot of hand-me-downs."

Most of the Leuluai boys played for one or other of the south Auckland league clubs, but Phil says he never took the game too seriously until he had a two-season stint in France with Limoux and UTC. From there, he played first grade in the NRL with Cronulla until the call came midway through last season from Salford.

When he arrived to join their unsuccessful attempt to avoid relegation from Super League, he had the disorienting experience of finding two of his nephews already playing in the same competition. James' son, Thomas, had played scrum-half for Harlequins and their predecessors, the London Broncos, before signing for Wigan, while Kylie was halfway through his first season at Leeds.

The senior Leuluai currently playing the game says his nephews will bring very different attributes to tonight's contest. The nimble Thomas will be alongside Trent Barrett at the Wigan control panel. "He's run into some good form, has Tommy, but he's been saying to me that Wigan need to stick to a particular game plan for this match," says his uncle.

Phil also has a lively appreciation of Kylie's qualities. "Man, he's strong," he says of the Leeds prop. "I wouldn't like to run into him too often. He just bends them in half at training."

Kylie has proved to be what might be termed a predictable player in a good sense, just running straight and tackling hard game after game. Tommy has had more up-and-down fortunes at Wigan, but seems to have established himself now and will have more responsibility yet after Barrett has departed next season.

With a foot in both camps, Phillip sidesteps the question of who he will support tonight. "I'll have to sit on the fence," he says. "I've even got two sons – one supports Wigan and one supports Leeds. I grew up as a Hull fan because of my brother James."

When Kylie and Thomas have resolved their family business, Uncle Phil will take centre stage. He already knows he will be playing Super League against his nephews next season. "But it would be perfect to go up as champions," he says. "I didn't know what relegation was when I came here. I'd never heard of it. I wondered what had happened to some of the old clubs, like Widnes and Halifax, and when we dropped down, there they were."

Along with the Celtic Crusaders, Salford are bidding farewell to that company, but he could have an on-field reunion with his nephews before the next Super League season.

For the World Cup in Australia, Thomas is the likely scrum-half for New Zealand, while Phil and Kylie are both in the Samoa squad.

Stranger things have happened than those two countries colliding in the semis, giving the extended Leuluai family another of those insoluble questions of where their loyalties lie.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz