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Rebels recruit Salakaia-Loto back to his rugby best

3 minute read

A Wallabies return is the aim for Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, who says he's in great shape on and off the field as he gears up for Melbourne's Super Rugby challenge.

JOE SCHMIDT.
JOE SCHMIDT. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has set his sights on a Wallabies recall under new coach Joe Schmidt as he looks to impress on his return to Super Rugby Pacific with Melbourne.

The 27-year-old lock-cum-backrower was a stand-out for the Rebels in their trial match win over the Waratahs in early February, with the team having a final pre-season hit-out against the Fijian Drua in Melbourne on Friday.

Looking fit and lean, Salakaia-Loto said he felt settled in his new home, which was being reflected on the field.

"Footy (Melbourne coach Kevin Foote) and the boys have made the transition quite easy for me," Salakaia-Loto told AAP.

"I'm just bringing what I can to the group, and hopefully it's adding in a positive way.

"It's the best I've felt in a long time and being home back in Australia, settled in with my family, certainly helps.

"I'm happy as well, which is a reflection of the environment and the group of boys who we've got here, and the coaching staff."

Salakaia-Loto spent last year with English club Northampton, which he said helped him evolve as a player and person after nine seasons with Queensland.

"Just the change itself is the biggest thing - change can be such a positive thing," he said.

"I was in the same place (Queensland Reds) for about nine years, so to experience something else and see things from a different perspective certainly helped my game grow.

"Taking my family overseas and experiencing a new lifestyle has benefited me and hopefully it'll show this year."

Salakaia-Loto played a match for Australia A last year but missed World Cup selection.

He said he was hungry to add to his 30 Tests under Schmidt, who has replaced Eddie Jones as Wallabies coach.

"One hundred per cent - that's definitely one of the big motivators as to why I came home," he said of potential Test selection.

"But you know, you don't get to that level if you don't perform at Super Rugby level - so that's the goal and that's the focus.

"Hopefully the performances as a team at the Rebels will lead to guys going on to push for higher honours."

The future of the cash-strapped Rebels beyond 2024 remains in doubt and Salakaia-Loto admitted the uncertainty was unsettling, but he hoped the players could use it as a driving force.

"It's put us in a real good position to turn it into a positive as a group," he said.

"This season is fully in our control and that's awesome, because it's in our hands, it's our fate and we decide our destiny."

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