When Dunamis Lui was asked to talk about reaching his 150th NRL game this week, he politely declined because he wasn’t interested in talking about himself.
It’s a gesture that didn’t surprise front-row partner Josh Papalii in the slightest, who knows the selflessness of the man who will line-up alongside him in the front row against the Titans on Saturday afternoon.
“He doesn’t get all the accolades that he deserves but he’s like Alan Tongue, he does all the little things behind the scenes,” Papalii said. “Knowing Nami, he probably doesn’t want those accolades anyway.”
Lui’s team first mentality continues to pleasantly surprise Papalii, especially around lunchtime.
“He doesn’t have to but for some reason, he always makes my lunch. He changes it up, it could be brown rice with chicken a few spices and all that or salmon,” Papalii said. “If it was me, I would only be thinking about myself, but I think that just defines who Nami is as a person.
“He’s always inviting me to come over for dinner, he always wants to catch up for coffee - he doesn’t even drink coffee. He invests a lot of time in others.”
Lui is the unsung hero of the Raiders pack, the man who goes about his business week in week out without any fanfare. Although he might not have his name up in lights externally it’s a different story inside the walls of the Raiders inner sanctum, with Coach Ricky Stuart giving a rare insight into Lui at a recent post-match press conference when he labelled him as one of the unsung heroes of the club.
Stuart knows the value Lui brings to the squad and to his team. It’s why he was awarded the Coaches Award in 2019 and why his name is always one of the first on the team sheet each week.
The first time Josh Papalii came across Dunamis was a decade ago in Under 20s when Lui was playing for the Broncos.
“He didn’t know of me at the time, but he was a big deal coming through,” Papalii said. “He was just smashing blokes.
“From that moment, every time I played against a team and Dunamis Lui was in the side, that was one name and one person I would watch out for.”
Lui’s eventual path to Canberra was paved back in 2008, when he was part of a star-studded Toyota Cup Grand Final, where he lined up against the Green Machine for the Brisbane Broncos. On that day he was on the losing side of the ledger, as the Raiders led by Shaun Fensom and including current skipper Jarrod Croker edged out the Broncos at the death to claim the title.
After he made his NRL debut in 2010 for the Broncos, the Samoan international played 32 matches for the Brisbane outfit. Stints at the Sea Eagles and Dragons followed but before moving to Canberra in 2017, Lui had struggled to make himself a permanent fixture for an NRL side.
When hearing that Dunamis was joining the Raiders, Papalii was thrilled with the news.
“I was pretty happy. He was playing for the Dragons at the time and he wasn’t getting a fair shot,” Papalii said. “I remember saying one game that if he was ever going to come here, he’ll be starting in our team. He obviously made his way over and he hasn’t disappointed.
“He’s a strong player, a strong defender and has that aggressive mentality for our team.”
Seven games into his Raiders career, injury struck when Lui ruptured his ACL against the Sea Eagles. However, to his credit, Lui managed to overcome that and become a mainstay in the Raiders pack.
“We bonded a lot closer when he had that ACL injury and since he’s been back, he’s grown as a player,” Papalii said. “I just knew the jumping from club to club situation he was going through but he really found a home in Canberra and when that happened, he was playing some good footy.”
Helping Lui settle in the national capital has been Papalii with the two forwards both having Samoan heritage and being raised in Brisbane.
“Our families are pretty close and I would say that we are two of closer ones in the team,” Papalii said. “Our kids are very close, our partners are very close as well. The relationship will probably be unbroken for a long time.”
Training day lunches aren’t the only time that Dunamis is cooking for Papalii.
He’s the Samoan version of Gordon Ramsay.Josh Papalii
“We try and save the Samoan foods for the weekend and if my missus isn’t cooking it, I know where to go,” laughed Papalii. “I’m always hitting him up about cooking me my favourites.
“Sometimes me and my missus just go over because we know he’ll just start cooking. Obviously, we can’t do it now, but he can cook heaps of lamb – loves his lamb chops – he’s the Samoan version of Gordon Ramsay.”
Now one of the senior members of the Raiders side, Lui’s influence and performances have been more important than ever.
With an injury taking a heavy toll with Sia Soliola, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh all out long term, Lui has risen to the challenge in typical fashion.
Play of the week: Lui strips it twice
“Behind the scenes, people probably don’t think he’s a massive talker but he is. He does the forwards videos and little things that people don’t see.” Papalii said. “I had the confidence that he would be ready to go. I’ve never doubted his playing ability. He’s aggressive and does team first choices.”
Although there won’t be much fanfare when Dunamis Lui runs on to play his 150th NRL game on the Gold Coast, the achievement isn’t lost on Papalii and the rest of the Raiders squad.
“It’s massive, not many people can say they’ve played their first NRL game but to rack up 150 after some major injuries and jumping from club to club is a massive achievement,” Papalii said. “He’s finally found a home and a club that suits his personality and his family and kids are happy.
“That’s when you start playing your best footy and I think he’s done that here in Canberra. I’m just really happy for him.”
NRL Games: 149 (32 Broncos, 38 Sea Eagles, 10 Dragons, 69 Raiders)