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No franchise to play for, but still a Wallaby

In-limbo Lukhan Salakaia-Loto is happy to put his country ahead of a franchise as he fights for a Wallabies recall following a three-year “soul-searching” career change overseas.

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Salakaia-Loto is in the running for a first Test start since 2021 after returning from an English Premiership stint with Northampton Saints and earning a spot in Joe Schmidt’s maiden Wallaby squad.

The 27-year-old didn’t blink when asked if he thought his Test-playing days might be over after he left the Queensland Reds at the end of 2022.

“No, not at all,” the 30-Test stalwart said ahead of the Wallabies’ first match of the year against Wales in Sydney on Saturday.

“I knew that time of my career, back in 2021, I needed a change.

“I’d spent a big part – all of – my career up in Queensland and I got to the point where I needed change and to do a bit of soul searching and overseas was the place for that.

“So I left knowing that I would come back at some stage.

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“Probably not as quick as it probably happened but I knew that if I had gone away and worked and chipped away on my craft, that coming back I’d be a better player for it.”

Salakaia-Loto was praising him for the help he received at Northampton from English great Courtney Lawes.

But, ultimately, he credits family life for his new perspective and approach.

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“Had a family, got two kids now with my partner. Just in life in general, it’s made me a better person,” he said.

“And that flows on to being a better player.

“Coming back a bit more older and mature, it’s something that I definitely haven’t taken for granted.

“I’m just taking each day as it comes and it’s good to be back with the boys that I’ve got a lot of time for and played a lot of rugby with in the past.

“Hopefully I can make my time this time around better.”

Salakaia-Loto’s bid for a Wallabies recall comes amid much uncertainty around his franchise career after Melbourne Rebels’ axing from the Super Rugby Pacific competition.

The lock hasn’t played since breaking a foot in April, but insists he’s “fit and ready to go” and only focused on the Wallabies.

The Sydney-born-and-raised talent is an obvious candidate to join the Rugby Australia-owned NSW Waratahs but is remaining coy about where he may end up in 2025.

“I’m right where my feet is and that’s in camp and that’s what I’m focused on,” Salakaia-Loto said.

“Once I have an answer, I could probably give you a bit more clarity on that.

“But, you never know, NBA is a pretty cool sport to get into.

“All options are open at the moment.”

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