The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - SPORT - JIM TUCKER IN CARDIFF

THE im­pos­ing 121kg gam­ble, who the Wal­la­bies have taken on tour to de­throne Eddie Jones and Eng­land, nearly ate him­self out of a rugby ca­reer as a fast-food ca­su­alty in west­ern Sydney.

It’s rare for a Wal­la­bies coach to se­lect a player cer­tain to miss half of a four-Test tour and al­most un­prece­dented to put such faith in a rookie like Lukhan Tui.

Most of all, it’s a mea­sure of the ex­plo­sive lift that the 21year-old can of­fer from the bench with his bump­ing ball­car­ries, sup­port play, the ex­cel­lence in the air that helped beat the All Blacks and some thump­ing phys­i­cal work.

Lock-flanker Tui has only earned three cameos off the bench in Tests and that is the role coach Michael Cheika has sized up for him on Satur­day at Twick­en­ham now that a ham­string nig­gle is com­ing right.

The Queens­land Reds for­ward is still pinch­ing him­self at how far he’s come so quickly to savour a win over the All Blacks in his third Test when it took Sean McMa­hon nearly three years as a Test player.

“That Bledis­loe Cup Test was a big one for me and kind of per­sonal be­ing born in New Zealand and hav­ing my fam­ily there at the game,” Tui said after a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ses­sion in Cardiff this week.

“It made the win so much sweeter. It also made me think just how quickly things have moved.”

Few know just how quickly, be­cause Tui only took his first un­fit steps as a rugby player in 2014 after play­ing ju­nior rugby league for Camp­bell­town Col­le­gians in Sydney’s far west.

Learn­ing new skills wasn’t the hard part. It was wean­ing him­self off the fast food that was too tempt­ing when he was work­ing at KFC at Ca­sula and Hun­gry Jacks at Camp­bell­town in his fi­nal years at John Ed­mond­son High.

“I love food like any Poly­ne­sian but I got up to around 138kg in my teens and just had to get more strict on cut­ting out fast foods,” said Tui, who could take on an 18-piece KFC fam­ily pack solo.

For­mer NSW Waratahs gi­ant Will Skel­ton sorted him out with his first pair of de­cent rugby boots and gave him the wise coun­sel – “work hard and al­ways eat well” – if he wanted to chase his dreams.

No team ap­plies the blow­torch like the All Blacks, and be­ing dumped into the caul­dron of a fluc­tu­at­ing Bledis­loe Cup bat­tle in Bris­bane last month ex­plained a lot about Tui’s make-up. When eight-year Wal­la­bies stal­wart Rob Sim­mons was stretchered off with a neck in­jury after 55 min­utes, an un­scarred cub with few miles on the clock was thrown into his sink-or-swim ex­am­i­na­tion.

He ran with pur­pose and when the All Blacks put up the fi­nal kick-off with the Test still in the bal­ance, he knew what was com­ing next.

“I grew up watch­ing Bledis­loe Tests and I knew straight away ev­ery­thing was on the line. So did Stephen Moore be­cause ‘Squeak’ was the guy be­hind me who told me to be ready to get up for the ball at the kick-off,” Tui said.

“It’s al­ways the same guy, Kieran Read, com­ing through, so I was fo­cused, maybe closed the eyes, and came down with the ball.”

It was a clutch play and ex­actly what Cheika keeps urg­ing from his new breed.

“Our big­gest thing is get­ting a win­ning mind­set for ev­ery mo­ment of the game,” Tui said.

“I’m pretty keen for this Eng­land game. I was play­ing un­der-20s in Manch­ester last year watch­ing Wal­la­bies-Eng­land on the TV so, like I said, it makes me think just how quickly things have moved.” d ch inv la­bie Eu Wing

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