Super Rugby 2020: Blues prop Karl Tu'inukuafe eyes comeback season

Blues prop Karl Tu'inukuafe is determined to make a fresh start and return to the All Blacks, after a nightmare 2019.

The former nightclub bouncer's sudden rise to test rugby two years ago made him a cult hero among Kiwi fans, but as quickly as he reached test stardom, he fell out of favour.

Tu'inukuafe was 2018's feel-good story, as he rose from no Super Rugby contract to 13 All Blacks tests.

Then things turned sour last season. Viral meningitis laid the loosehead prop low for a couple of months.

"That set me back quite a bit," Tu'inukuafe told Newshub. "It was like 10 weeks of not being allowed to get my heart-rate up, so it was hard to try and get fit again."

Tu'inukuafe ran out of time and was cruelly cut from the World Cup squad, as coach Steve Hansen sought mobile, ball-playing props.

But big-scrummaging Tu'inukuafe isn't about to change the way he plays.

"I always try to adjust to what coaches need and stuff, but if I'm good at something. I usually try to stick with my guns."

Those guns pack plenty of raw power, just like the rest of his 130-plus kg frame.

Blues forwards coach Tom Coventry thinks we'll see Tu'inukuafe back to his best this year.

"He's been in for the pre-season," said Coventry. "Last year, he missed that, so he's probably a little bit ahead of where he was last year.

"Each and every week, it just gets a little bit better," Tu'inukuafe added. "So hopefully it just builds into the season... it's all thanks to the trainers and the coaches doing a good job."

And Tu'inukuafe's not just learning lessons on the field. His illness - and missing the World Cup - gave him some perspective.

"Spending time with my kids more and my wife... it's opened my eyes pretty well. With rugby, it's about having a bit more fun than trying to be too serious about everything."

Now a rejuvenated Tu'inukuafe's looking forward to hitting the field again, starting Friday in Waihi against his former team, the Chiefs.

"I just want to get straight into it. I'm tired of this pre-season stuff now."

And it might not be long until Tu'inukuafe's back in black.

Watch the full story above and join us for live updates of the 2020 Super Rugby season