Luke Covell has returned to a plumbing apprenticeship he started 12 years ago.
Luke Covell has returned to a plumbing apprenticeship he started 12 years ago. Blainey Woodham

League legend hard at work

TWO days after leading Murwillumbah Mustangs to victory in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final - and one day after the team's "quiet little drink" - Luke Covell was back at work honing his skills as an apprentice plumber.

To say that getting his plumber's ticket is a long-time coming is to say Covell could kick a goal.

The 31-year-old started his apprenticeship in 2001 but, according to his current master, Glenn Weaver, of Tweed Heads Plumbing, he should be a fully fledged plumber within the next six months or so.

"Because of his previous experience, his apprenticeship will be fast-tracked," Weaver said.

Don't for a moment think that Covell is a bit slow on the uptake in learning plumbing skills.

In between being indentured for nine months to Damien Crimmins, at Tweed District Plumbing in 2001, and to Weaver in February, Covell played a bit of footy.

He ventured to Sydney in late 2001 in a bid to further his burgeoning rugby league career and while biding his time in breaking into elite football, he continued working as an apprentice after his indentures were transferred to a Sydney plumber.

"I worked as an apprentice for eight months but on gaining a contract with Wests Tigers my studies had to be placed on the backburner," Covell said.

The loss to plumbing in the immediate term was rugby league's gain, with Covell going on to build an illustrious career, first with Wests Tigers and then the Cronulla Sharks.

One of the finest goal-kickers in the history of the game, Covell was also no slouch with the ball in hand.

Even he would tell you that he wasn't all that fleet-of-foot for a winger but his safe hands, canny positional play, determination and work ethic earned him 62 tries in a career that spanned 2003-2010.

As a goal kicker he was among the elite of his generation, potting 421 goals and boasting a success percentage rate in the low 80s.

Among the highlights of his career in the toughest rugby league competition were his selection to represent New Zealand (he has Kiwi forebears) in a Test against Australia in 2007 and winning the 2008 Dally M Pointscorer of the Year Award in 2008.

After becoming the NRL's pioneer recipient of the revolutionary ligament augmentation and reconstruction surgery (LARS) in early 2010, Covell made a remarkable recovery and played out the season with the Sharks before announcing he was returning home to the Tweed.

Making the trip back north with him was a new wife, Julie, and two children, Jayla, 5, and two-year-old Chloe.

But still no plumber's ticket.

The Covells quickly found employment, Luke as an agent for Byron Bay company Vitality4Life while Julie, a beautician, started her own business, Flametree Beauty and Nails.

When he pulled on the boots with the Mustangs at the start of last season, Covell renewed a friendship with Weaver, who featured on this page last edition.

Weaver is assistant first grade coach to Troy McLean and a former long-time player with the Mustangs.

"Last August I asked Glenn if he was interested in taking on a mature-age plumbing apprentice and he said that if an opportunity presented itself he and his partner, Jamie O'Connor, would be more than happy to take me on," Covell said.

That opportunity came in February and Covell gratefully swapped a snappy suit for blue overalls and his plumbing education resumed.

He works alongside experienced plumbers four days a week and each Wednesday heads down to "plumbing class" at Wollongbar TAFE.

"I love doing this," Covell said on the job at a building site next to Gold Coast Airport.

"I work with a good bunch of blokes and Glenn and Jamie have been terrific mentors.

"This type of work is right up my alley. I've never minded getting my hands dirty and have always enjoyed working with my hands.

"Yeah, life's good."

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