Appearances are not always deceiving - Radike Samo might be sporting an afro hairstyle these days but he is still the same devastating ball player who trampled rivals as the Brumbies won the Super 14 crown in 2004.

The Fijian-born lock-cum-loose forward was at the peak of his powers when an Australian side last won a Super rugby title and, fittingly, he will play a leading role as the Queensland Reds try to relive their own past glories.

Like the Brisbane-based franchise, Samo has undergone a remarkable transformation this season, a reawakening after three virtually anonymous years in Yokohama.

Visions of a rampaging Samo, short back and sides and the ball clamped like a limpet in one palm, faded from consciousness when he left Australia in 2006 for Stade Francais and then Japan.

However, the 34-year-old took the first steps down memory lane late last season when James Horwill's season-ending knee injury meant Samo was summoned from Sydney club rugby by Reds coach Ewen McKenzie who was a mentor when he was starting out in Canberra in 1999.

Samo played the final two regular season games and celebrated his return with a typically wide roaming try against the Highlanders. The mobile No 8 had been contemplating a return to Japan or France - with Agen - before McKenzie's mayday and now he finds himself settled in Brisbane.

While the Brumbies disintegrated this season, the Reds have finally emerged from years of underachievement. They play their first semifinal since 2001 against the Blues at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night; win that and the silverware is within reach for the first time since the pre-Sanzar era where John Connolly coached the state to back-to-back Super 10 titles in 1994-95.

Samo was involved in both triumphant Brumbies' campaigns in 2001 and 2004 and senses the same vibe around a Reds side that completed the regular season in top spot.

"It's incredible," he said. "Two years ago they were [at] the bottom of the ladder. A lot of people would never [have] expected us to play in a semifinal.

"We've got the same team as last year; that's where it started. Everyone started playing well then and this year has been another big step.

"The main thing is everyone's happy, we're enjoying our footy."

Samo has been a pivotal member of McKenzie's first choice loose trio alongside Scott Higginbotham and Beau Robinson. McKenzie still views Samo as an X-factor player capable of an outrageous run, though he also has a sharp footballing brain.

"If he sees an opportunity he takes it and he's powerful enough to do something about it," McKenzie said.

Samo might even earn an opportunity to resurrect a test career that spanned just six tests in 2004.

"Whatever happens, happens," Samo said, skirting the possibility of an international recall.