To some members of my family, especially my mum who I think had a crush on him for nearly a decade, James Leuluai is considered as one of the greatest ever players to have played for Hull FC.
Given some of the personnel we’ve had in our history, that’s a pretty big statement, but it shows how high Leuluai was valued at the Black and Whites. He was, along with Gary Kemble and Dane O’Hara, one of the famous Kiwi trio of the 1980s.
Back then all three players were part of the New Zealand test side, and the signing of the threesome shocked the sport across both sides of the world. Given the magnitude of the coup. Hull clearly meant business, and they backed that up with the most prolific trophy winning spell the club has ever had.
‘Jimmy’ was at the heart of that success, and was nicknamed “Lullaby”, as he was always falling asleep, including, well so the tale goes, during an Arthur Bunting team talk. With the fans he was a real star, both on and off the field, and given his pedigree it’s not really a surprise.
Within his first few performances at the Boulevard he had opposition defences quivering. He had pace, ability, could beat players and he was exciting. People took notice. Most admired him. He was brilliant – he had a sidestep like no other, a dummy in his locker and a passing game.
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube his Hull FC exploits are there for all to observe, with his second Wembley try against Wigan in the 1985 Challenge Cup final one of the best you’ll ever see. The final has been regularly acclaimed as the best final of all-time and as far as I’ve seen, I’d tend to agree.
Leuluai ran virtually the full length of the field to score. When he broke away he was almost always unstoppable, and he beat legendary Wigan duo Shaun Edwards and Henderson Gill on his way to the line that day.
What’s equally amazing given his stature is that three years prior, in the 1982 Wembley final against Widnes, he was an unused sub, but obviously starred in the replay, providing the training ground perfected dummy that allowed David Topliss the space to create his stunning runaround try. Magical stuff. He was some player.
Whilst at Hull FC, Leuluai was New Zealand’s Player of the Year in 1983, which highlighted his sheer class, given Down Under produced players playing overseas don’t usually get recognised for awards. He made 29 test appearances for the Kiwis, scoring 14 tries.
At the Black and Whites he was a revelation, but all good things come to an end, and once his pace started to diminish he was loaned to Leigh. He briefly came back to Hull but was soon transfer listed and joined Wakefield, playing 51 games, before short spells at York and Doncaster finished his career.
James Leuluai hung up his boots in 1991 and will be forever remembered as a Hull FC legend – scoring 85 tries in 184 appearances. At his peak he was unplayable, with his socks at his ankles, and his Maori skin on show. He was such a gifted player and would be most people’s pick for the greatest centre in any Hull FC Fantasy XIII.
I may not have had the privilege to have witnessed him live, but his speed and try-scoring ability I’ve seen on video can rarely be beaten, and fully exhibits why the Leuluai name is so famous.