He watched from the sidelines last year as his side rode all the way to the preliminary finals and now young gun Heilum Luki said he's ready to make up for lost time in the Cowboys’ back-row.
Returning from his second injury in 12 months as the Cowboys downed the Roosters, Luki’s injection into what’s been up-and-down Cowboys side coincided with the club orchestrating arguably the biggest upset of the Magic Round weekend.
Placed on a minutes restriction in what marked his fourth appearance since tearing his ACL in Round 14 last season, the 22-year-old forward wasted no time in the No. 11 jersey – making seven hit-ups and 25 tackles in a 54-minute performance.
Having seen firsthand how injury can suddenly derail a promising career, the Cairns product is determined to waste no time in helping his side get back to the finals form of 2022.
“It was pretty hard, seeing how good the boys were going [last year] but I knew I just had to be happy for them and want the best for them,” Luki told NRL.com.
“The hardest part was just not being able to be out there with them and seeing the boys go so well in the finals did make it a little harder.
Luki with some strong defence
“But now whatever opportunity I get I’m just going to take it with both hands and try and do the best I can.
“I just want to give 100 percent every time I go out there, bring energy to the team, run hard, tight lines and compete all game.”
Last year’s season-ending blow was the first time Luki had suffered a major injury, but the towering forward said he was determined to stay positive from the outset.
Barnstorming Luki can't be stopped
While the injury ended his campaign on the field, Luki found a way to continue to develop as a player off the field.
“The injury did teach me a bit but I grew mentally and it matured me in a way,” he said. “I knew I could either let it beat me down or I could choose to overcome it and become mentally stronger and that's sort of how I got through it.
“Being off my feet, gave me a little bit of time to get into the gym and get a little bigger. Seeing as I wasn’t doing any work on my legs, it gave me a bit of time to work on my upper body and to put a bit more weight on the upper half.
“I’ve always been a bit of a longer, skinnier, lanky kid, so I've just tried to bulk out a bit to give me a bit more confidence taking the ball into the line and also in defence.”
Townsend: We need to copy and paste that performance
Cowboys veteran Chad Townsend was full of praise for the young forward and said his return to the side had been felt by the playing group.
“He just brings a bit more extra punch with the way he carries the ball. He's very dynamic, very physical,” Townsend said.
“I think because he is still so young, he got to spend a lot of time on his game but also his physical attributes because he's still such a young kid.
“I don't know how much weight you put on, or muscle, but it would have been like a lot, his strength parameters went through the roof and I guess that time away allowed him to do things like that.
"He's still growing, he's still learning and I think when he reaches his potential he's got the ability to play beyond the Cowboys in representative honours if he keeps doing what he does.”
Match: Cowboys v Dragons
Round 11 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville