ISSAC Luke has the hands of a pianist. Literally. The hands you see distributing the ball to his South Sydney teammates are equally adept at gliding along a baby grand.
But as far as football goes, it was the rest of his body - or lack thereof - that was the problem. He was a winger in the lower grades at the Bulldogs and the Belmore club didn't think he would make the grade because of his spindly 70-kilogram frame.
"I was a stick," he said. "They thought I was too small. If I wanted to further my career I had to go somewhere else. I had a problem with that in New Zealand and it's stuck in my head ever since."
However, Junior Kiwi Luke caught the eye of one discerning talent scout when he came to Australia a few years ago. Bulldogs recruitment officer Mark Hughes saw something in lightweight Luke and took him with him when he switched to the Rabbitohs.
It was a good move. Luke started eating and pumping iron. In a year, he put on 10kg. By the time he ran on to Olympic Park for his first-grade debut in round 12 against Melbourne last month, he was tipping the scales at 85kg.
"I'm just trying to get weight on so I can survive getting hit in the NRL," the hooker said.
His NRL debut was a blur, but one moment stuck in his mind.
"[Souths coach] Jason Taylor told me not to use up too much energy while I was waiting to come off the bench," Luke said.
"But by the time I got on and made one tackle I was gone."
In the five games since his debut, Luke has emerged as one of the finds of the season, with fellow rookies Luke Walsh, Israel Folau, Michael Jennings, Rangi Chase, Mitchell Pearce and Josh Morris.
In a South Sydney team struggling to score points, Luke has provided some much-needed spark. And, despite his slender frame, he doesn't mind smashing larger opponents , best exemplified by a colossal hit on rattled Sharks centre Ben Pomeroy.
"What he's done in a handful of games is there for everyone to see," Taylor said.
"He's enormously strong for his size. He has great speed. He's a real player of the future. I see him as being one of the best dummy-halves in years to come."
The 20-year-old is off contract at the end of the season and rival clubs are circling. However, the Rabbitohs are hopeful he'll remain at Redfern, despite the impending arrival of prodigal son and fellow hooker Craig Wing next season.
Luke's agent, Gavin Orr, is hopeful of negotiating a two-year contract extension. "He likes them and they like him, so he'll probably end up staying," Orr said.
Luke was coached by his father George in a local team at Taranaki, but moved to Wellington to further his career. There, he played in a local under-16s side - the equivalent of our S.G. Ball competition - which included current or soon-to-be first-graders Simon Mannering, Sam Tagataese, Sika Manu and Tim Natusch. They were not beaten often.
When he wasn't playing footy he was playing piano, guitar or bass guitar - "if you can play the piano you can play anything" - either with mates or with his uncle Joe's band, Bluntside.
"I like to go back to the '70s, listen to old bands like the Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Dire Straits," he said. "I get really into that.
"We started our own band back home but didn't make much progress because we all had different thoughts about our careers.
"Last year I worked at Rebel Sport and did a course to become a podiatrist. I was thinking about stuff if I got injured or for after footy. But the more I thought about it, I really liked music. I want to become a musician [after football]."
For now, he'll be entertaining packed stadiums with his sporting talents rather than his musical ones. There's still much to achieve in rugby league - a permanent spot in first grade, a starting hooking role, maybe even a Kiwis jersey down the track.
His immediate focus is on helping South Sydney make the finals for the first time since 1989. That would be music to the ears of Souths fans.
Mark Gasnier's switch from the centres to five-eighth may have hit a second roadblock, as Chase wants to make the pivot spot his own.
Dragons coach Nathan Brown: "He's a player that causes plenty of threat and there's plenty of points in him. He's hard for opposition defences to handle. He's becoming more patient."
Andrew Johns rates him as a halfback of enormous potential. Enough said.
Knights coach Brian Smith: "From the moment he stepped into first grade we've looked like a team with some real potential, particularly in our attack. He's a natural at halfback. Andrew Johns is excited about the prospect of him being our halfback."
Isaac de Gois
The former Tigers hooker is providing the Sharks with some spark.
Sharks coach Ricky Stuart: "He adds that extra dimension for us in attack with his speed out of dummy half and Isaac is also a very strong defender. In no way being disrespectful to him, but it's probably fair to say that he is far more important to our team than we would have thought at the beginning of the season."
Source: The Sun-Herald</BOD>