‘Something I needed’: Salakaia-Loto returning to Australia with point to prove

Fri, Nov 24, 2023, 12:29 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Mel Kawa, Joe Pincus and Alex Mafi welcome That's Right Rugby's first guests Sam Talakai and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto! After chatting all things Rebels the crew dive into Sam and Lukhan's background as players, their motivations and what advice they would give to their younger selves.

New Rebel Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is out to deliver success to the Melbourne-based club as he reflects on his return to Australian Rugby.

Salakaia-Loto departed the Reds at the end of 2022, taking up an opportunity with English club Northampton.

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Bursting onto the international scene as a 21-year-old, the lock was one of the more established players in a Queensland system undergoing a youthful roster overhaul.

It meant the 30-Test lock had to step up as a mentor for the likes of Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson whilst still trying to develop his own game.

However, the move to the Saints allowed Salakaia-Loto to test himself in a new environment whilst picking the brains of fellow lock/backrower and English superstar Courtney Lawes.

“It was something that I needed, probably something that I realised I needed until I was actually over there experiencing it all,” he said via the That’s Right Rugby Podcast - The Melbourne Rebels official Podcast.

“…I’d left the Reds being an older guy but I was still 25-26 so still young in my own rights so going over for a season and learning and playing alongside the likes of Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar, real legends of the modern game (was amazing).

“In terms of growth, I really benefited from having those different experiences and seeing those different perspectives…upon reflection, I’m really grateful for it and glad that happened.

“I’m really excited to be back in Australia and hopefully those lessons and experiences are really going to build a good foundation to have a real impact for myself and the Rebels.”

Salakaia-Loto reflects a focused recruitment policy around attracting established stars to Melbourne, linking up with former Reds and Wallabies teammate Taniela Tupou. Trio Filipo Daugunu, Matt Proctor and Jack Maunder will add crucial experience to a side full of talent but lacking the ability to close out games.

This combined with a growing group of budding stars has Salakaia-Loto excited about the future of the Rebels, particularly impressed with young forward Daniel Maiava.

“I think we have some potential to do some awesome things for Rugby here in Melbourne and Victoria,” Salakaia-Loto believes.

“You see the quality of boys we’ve brought in, none bigger than ‘Nela (Tupou), plus guys like Matty Proctor, Filipo Daugunu, Jack Maunder so we’ve got a lot of boys coming in and already adding to the depth of the squad and injecting plenty of experience and influence to the group.

“…I think we’re all getting on the same page and working hard to bring a lot of the stuff we talk about to life. I’m excited and I think there’s an awesome vibe and feeling that some good things are on the horizon and not too far out of reach.”

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