Above: Sam Lousi running strongly against Northland last Thursday. Lions fans will be hoping for more of the same against the same opposition on Friday night.
“Keep your body right and keep knocking on the door,” is the best advice Sam Lousi can provide young players at a career crossroads.
In 2013, Lousi was in danger of becoming a league reject. Wallabies coach Michael Cheika provided a new direction.
“I had played league my whole life, but was going nowhere in the NRL. In 2014 the strength and conditioning coach at the Warriors was from Sydney and an old friend of Michael Cheika. Michael was seeking some athletic forwards to join the Waratahs. My agent got in touch with Michael and my move to rugby happened pretty quickly,” Lousi explains
The move across the Tasman wasn’t a roaring success. Lousi only made a handful of appearances for the Waratahs after he cracked a scapula (shoulder blade) in 2015.
In July 2016, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd signed Lousi and remarked:
"Sam is a big, powerful man and has a lot of raw potential so we're looking forward to helping him develop his game. I'm sure he'll fit in really well at the Hurricanes.”
Initially the move caught the ire of critics who complained Lousi was “big and cumbersome.” However Boyd’s faith was vindicated when Lousi grew in stature and eventually played 588 minutes, impressing with his increasing workrate and explosiveness.
Why couldn’t Australia produce similar results? Staggeringly Australian sides lost all 26 games against New Zealand Super Rugby opposition in 2017?
“I think New Zealand forwards are more skilful and complete. Set-piece has become a big part of my game when it wasn’t in Australia,” Lousi observes.
Can Cheika coach?
“Michael is a heart on sleeve kind of guy. He knows his stuff and is hard on his players. Off the field he is a nice gentleman. He wanted me to play a certain way, but I guess it didn’t work out and that’s footy,” Lousi responds.
The Wellington Lions flopped in 2016 losing the semi-final of the championship to North Harbour. Lousi is adamant history is less likely to repeat itself on Friday night when Wellington hosts Northland in the same fixture.
“Experience is a key thing. When things went bad last year we didn’t know how to react. This year we've been dealing with pressure better and Gibbo (Chris Gibbes) is really driving a winning culture.”
Wellington have won nine out of ten matches and scored 59 tries, more than any side in the NPC. Lousi is the top offloading forward and has scored twice himself.
“Our game plan is a lot of fun to play. It allows us to get involved and express ourselves. The young fellas like Asafo (Aumua) and Alex (Fidow) have been great,” Lousi enthuses
Lousi missed three games after jamming a meniscus in his knee, but is fully fit and expecting a tough tussle against the Taniwha who Wellington beat 36-18 last Thursday.
“They were disruptive at the breakdown and go for 80 minutes. We have been working hard at cleaning up our clearance around the breakdown. If we do that we can get our running game going,” Lousi examines.
Lousi grew up in Auckland and attended St Paul’s College who won the National league title every year he was at the school. Lousi represented the Junior Kiwis in 2010 and 2011 and finished his Toyota Cup Under-20’s career for the Warriors with 43 games, 11 tries and two premierships.
His mother, Mele, works as a caregiver, while his father Viliame is a mechanic. One of six siblings with four sisters and an older brother, Sam has been with his partner Sina for four years.
In his spare time Lousi chuckles he enjoys ‘shooting games’ on PlayStation.
Wellington will be hoping to shoot down Northland this Friday in the championship semi-final of the Men’s NPC. Kick-off at the Westpac Stadium is at 7:35pm.