His early interviews were big on nodding and decidedly small on conversation.
At best, you'd get a few low grunts and big toothy smiles - leaving struggling journalists in a state of bemusement, but feeling rather happy about it.
It's just as well Bay of Plenty prop Aleki Lutui's onfield vocabulary was loud and explicit. "Get out of my way" is equally effective in Tongan or English.
Lutui's long and memorable stint with Bay of Plenty rugby came to an end on Saturday night, when he came off the bench against Taranaki for his 55th game in a blue and gold jersey.
He leaves this week to take up a two-year contract with the Worcester club in England, and leaves a gaping hole in the No 2 jersey - though his English has improved out of sight.
"It was a bit emotional for me - it's going to be pretty sad to leave," the former Tongan policeman said. "It didn't feel like five years - I've just turned up each year and enjoyed playing for the Steamers."
He's also enjoyed the lifestyle, after he moved out to Opotiki from Tonga with his great mate Taufa'ao Filise in 2000.
The pair lasted a year there before heading for Rotorua and the Whakarewarewa club, and there's a strong rumour the local bakery's turnover trebled when the big front rowers wandered into town.
Long-time Steamers fitness trainer Keith Roberts remembers having to go around to the pair's base at the South Pacific Motel - which he subsequently dubbed the Tongan refugee camp - to wake them up before training.
It took them weeks before the pair, under Roberts' direction, could complete a 1km loop of Kuirau Park without stopping.
"They hated it," Roberts laughs. "It took them about eight minutes to do that first lap, and they used to dread every session but to their credit they always responded well."
Those sessions clearly made an impression on Lutui.
"I've learned a lot ... especially about fitness! When I first came here from Tonga, I couldn't speak any English and it was pretty hard.
"All I knew about rugby was that if I got the ball, I'd just run straight and hard. There wasn't anything like a game plan in the Islands! But it's pretty professional and I've been lucky to be involved with this team."
At his best, Lutui was an unstoppable force. There was no better sight than the chunky hooker in the clear and in full flight.
That form won him a place as backup in the Chiefs in 2004, and permanent spots for the past two seasons.
But some of his early lineout throwing resembled a grenade launcher gone awry, and he took a long time to understand all the calls.
Injury also wrecked this season and struck at inopportune times, including during the vintage 2004 season, when he broke his arm on Tana Umaga's head during the epic 17-14 win over Wellington.
"The thing with Aleki was that if he ever admitted pain, you knew it was bad," Steamers physio Paul Cameron said. "He called me just after he'd hurt his arm and said 'Shorty, it's a bit sore'. He came off at halftime and wanted me to strap it up, but it was only then we realised it was broken!"
Lutui's wife Diana recently gave birth to their first child, Haineala Ana Lutui, who he named after his mother.
His family will join him in England once Haineala is old enough to travel. When his contract is over, he'd like to come back and live in Auckland, and possibly coach, or study to join the police here.
But he'll never forget his five years with Bay of Plenty.
"The Steamers have made me who I am. I've learned lots about rugby and lots about life."