Lukhan Tui was the bolter for the Wallabies squad.
Lukhan Tui was the bolter for the Wallabies squad. DAN PELED

Tui is finger-lickin' good to fill Skelton's boots

NO longer gorging on 18-piece KFC family packs has helped Wallabies bolter Lukhan Tui step up to fill the biggest boots in Australian rugby.

Tui, 20, was still in shock on Monday at his first full day in Wallabies camp in Melbourne because he only started playing the code three years ago.

In 2014, the Queensland Reds lock couldn't find a proper pair of footy boots to fit when he took the first strides out of his rugby league comfort zone in western Sydney.

He wore mismatched boots from different pairs to play his first schoolboys rugby trial and is ever grateful that NSW Waratahs giant Will Skelton tossed him a spare pair in 2015.

You need to understand that Skelton's gargantuan size 19 boots are each big enough to enter the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race with a chopstick and napkin for a sail.

"I just didn't have a pair to fit and played that first rugby trial with my feet crunched up in odd boots before Will looked after me the next season,” Tui said.

Tui was a talented yet unfit lump from Currans Hill in his teens when his size 18 boots thundered up field spasmodically in junior rugby league for Campbelltown Collegians.

"I'd eat a whole 18-piece pack of KFC because I didn't know any better and I got up to 139kg after a shoulder operation,” the 119kg Tui said.

The Reds swooped in 2015 to sign the raw Sydney youngster from under the noses of the Waratahs after a few games for Randwick.

Tutelage from former All Blacks hardman Brad Thorn, in the Queensland Under-20s and at the Reds, have refined his habits but school PE teacher Nathan Dwyer is the unsung hero.

"We didn't even have rugby at my school (John Edmondson High) but Mr Dwyer said 'give it a go' at the regional trials and it all started there as a fill-in,” Tui said.

"The Wallabies? I was in shock when I heard last week.

"Thorny has helped me learn fast.

"The KFC is out and all he pushes around training, in the gym and how we carry ourselves is about excellence in everything.

"You listen to someone who has done everything in the game and that good attitude has really helped all the younger boys at the Reds.”

The Auckland-born Tui is of Samoan heritage and his physical style was summed up by his three booming first half gallops against the Waratahs in April and his heavy cleanouts.

He credits his league upbringing for his headstart.

"Ball skills, defence, my running lines (backing up backs for two Reds tries), being aggressive...those things from league have all helped me transition,” Tui said.

Locks Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter have the headstart for Saturday's Test against Fiji but sharpening Tui is just the sort of June project that coach Michael Cheika relishes. 


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