EXCLUSIVE: After a week of controversy, embattled Kiwis star Issac Luke has finally broken his silence.
In an exclusive interview with Aaron Lawton, he reveals how league fans on the streets of London have accosted him, his pain at being labelled a grub and why he's going to change the way he tackles.
Luke has felt better.
He's been in England for almost two weeks but says he's still recovering from jetlag.
But you suspect his downcast disposition has something to do with the fact he's found himself at the centre of a controversy that won't go away.
Last weekend in Warrington, Luke caused a stir after inadvertently injuring Kangaroos prop David Shillington with a "cannonball" tackle.
The Australians reacted furiously and started calls for the "grubby" move – Luke uses his body as a projectile and flies into opposition players' legs – to be banned.
Later in the week, an international match review committee ruled his conduct had been "contrary to the true spirit of the game" and that he'd face a ban if he did it again.
Since then, an under-fire Luke has tried to stay out of the limelight, repeatedly turning down requests for interviews.
Until now, that is.
"I've had a few challenges throughout the year. I've had this ongoing saga with my manager and a lot of other things going on," he says. "This is just another one, I guess. It's been a tough year but I'm doing all right.
"You know, it's been pretty hard walking down the street and having people come up to me and say, `hey, you're that guy who cannonballs people's legs'.
"That's been really hard to take. I just put my head down and carry on walking. It's hard to have people saying that to me. I wasn't going in there to break anything or injure anyone.
"But, obviously, what I did sent a pretty bad vibe through the Australian camp and it's been a big issue in the media over there, too."
Part of the fury in the Australian team was that the cannonball tackle on Shillington wasn't the first by Luke.
In the previous test in Newcastle, the nuggety rake was also guilty of flying into Sam Thaiday's exposed legs, prompting the first murmurings of discontent.
Luke hasn't spoken to either of his victims yet. He wants the controversy to die down before he does.
But he admits to feeling guilty about what he's done, although he refuses to outline his views on whether the tackle should have been banned.
"I can't say too much about it," he says. "But the first person who did it was Chris Sandow at Souths. He got pinged for it but as soon as a Kiwi did it, the issue really blew up. That's been a bit hard to take. But it's been outlawed and I won't be doing it again.
"I feel for everyone I've done it to – Sam Thaiday and David Shillington – but I can't change what I did.
"At the time I was fired up. But I've watched the footage and just gone to myself `what are you doing?'
"I never wanted to hurt them or injure them. There was no malice in the tackles."
A contrite Luke is surprised at the level of the controversy his actions have caused.
Throughout the ordeal he's had the support of his team-mates and coach Stephen Kearney, which, he says, has kept him sane.
"I think it's gone a bit overboard. People are still talking about it now. On Thursday, Adam Blair and Thomas Leuluai went to a press conference to promote the double-header at Wembley and they were asked about it.
"I'd really like to move on from it now. That's hard to hear from the boys. But they've really had my back throughout this."
Luke insists he has moved on. He's learned some lessons, is genuinely remorseful about the incidents and just wants to focus on his job for the Kiwis.
But the fact he's been labelled a grub still smarts.
He says that while he won't be cannonball tackling again, he won't change his uncompromising style.
"What gets me the most is when people call me a grub," he says. "I'm not a dirty player or a grub. I do compete and I don't like losing but, man, I hate that word, grub.
"Obviously, I'm still going to be attacking the legs but I won't be flying in any more. I need to control myself out there. It's really hard, though, when your job is to come in and take the legs."
- © Fairfax NZ News