Lolohea's leap of faith pays off

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Waratahs prop David Lolohea doesn’t look like a man you’d want to pick a fight with.

Even after slicing eight kilos off his 140kg frame to get down to the lowest playing weight of his career, he casts a monumental shadow.

Little over a year ago, his frame was critical for his job as a bouncer in Sydney, and he says few messed with him.

“Christmas that was about the only time I had run-ins, (dealing with) 18-year-olds who think they’re Muhammad Ali for some reason,” he said.

David Lolohea in action in preseason. Photo: WalmsleyMaking it as a professional rugby player was the farthest thing from his mind then, with the prop expecting to be giving up the sport at every level by the end of 2016.

He felt he’d had a fair opportunity back in 2013, travelling with the Waratahs on an Argentinian tour, but was more devoted to being a dad to daughter Michelle-Heyvani and husband to wife Polly-Ann.

“I was in the system in 2013. I just had a daughter and for that stage was thinking, ‘I need to be a dad more than a footballer, I need to make money (for my family,’,” he said.

“Whereas now, my wife has allowed and supported me to do this and she’s been everything. It’s not just my side, it’s also my wife allowing me to play.”

Far from being the final year of his career, though, 2016 was when he took off, switching from West Harbour to Parramatta Two Blues, with a standout club season giving him an NRC opportunity.

“I made the (Western Sydney) Rams out of the blue and was coached by John Muggleton and through that doors opened left, right and centre.

“I heard some people were talking to John about picking me for the Tahs or pulling me into training for the Tahs.

“At the time I was thinking, ‘I’m not 100 per cent sure,’.

“Next thing you know, I get pulled into a meeting with (NSW scrum coach) Cam Blades and (Waratahs pathways manager) Tim Rapp.

“They wanted me to come in two days a week and I wasn’t supposed to start until December, but after the meeting on the Thursday, I got a phone call on the Sunday from Tim Rapp saying, ‘Come in, we want you to come in on that Monday in November.

“And I’ve gone, ‘Alright, might as well’.”

A national opportunity was to follow, with the Wallaby XV against the French Barbarians, though that wasn’t straight forward - Lolohea was issued his first passport with just hours to spare before departure.

“That was one of the best experiences of my life, other than having my daughter, and it was one of the best opportunities as well,” he said.

“I didn’t have a passport before when I got the phone call. I rushed around the Monday before I flew out and actually got a passport.”

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson was full of praise for Lolohea before the 25-year-old had made his Super Rugby debut in round one, noting his changed attitude and new-found fitness.

“He's come from club rugby, had an excellent NRC, and he's really changed himself,” he said.

“He's lost a ton of weight, was invited to go on the Australian Barbarians tour and he continues to grow.”

Blades described Lolohea as the side’s fastest preseason bolter, ahead of his round one debut.

“David had a breakthrough season in terms of club rugby and NRC last year,” he said.

“We gave him an opportunity off the back of that and he's been probably our biggest improver in the off-season.

“Like a lot of our young guys, he's not the finished article yet but that progression he's made around body shape, fitness and technique has been outstanding so really happy for him.”

While his training has seen him strip plenty of weight, Lolohea says there is one area he’s not quite so strict.

“They (the club) look after us with meals, breakfast, then we have a snack, the nutritionist looks after proteins, then lunch," he said.

“The only meal we look after is dinner. It’s supposed to be small but you know us Islanders it’s not small."

Lolohea will again come off the bench for NSW this weekend, as they face the Lions.

The Waratahs take on the Lions on Sunday at 12:05am AEDT, LIVE on FOXSPORTS.