Cowboys half Robert Lui is determined to lighten the playmaking load of star five-eighth Johnathan Thurston. Copyright: Charles Knight/NRL Photos

Lui inspired by Fifita payday

North Queensland could be the unwitting beneficiaries of Andrew Fifita's mammoth Bulldogs payday with Robert Lui revealing he wants to emulate his best mate by recapturing the form he displayed as a youngster.

Lui and Fifita were integral members of the Wests Tigers under-20s team that went down to the Storm in the 2009 NYC Grand Final with big things expected of Lui after he was named five-eighth in the under-20s team of the year.

It was where he and Fifita formed a bond that to this day is as strong as ever and last week's announcement by the Sharks prop that he would be joining Canterbury on a multi-million dollar four-year deal just reward for the "Fifita footy" that has taken the NRL by storm in the past 12 months.

"He's my best mate, his brother plays up with [the Northern] Pride, Latu, and I always talk to him," Lui told NRL.com. "We've been through 20s together and been through a lot and pretty much debuted the same time and to see him where he is now, I feel like I've made it too because he's a part of me as well.

"It makes me want to become a better player. He's just playing Fifita footy, he's played like that ever since we were in the 20s; I've just got to play like I did in 20s too.

"Hopefully one day I can play alongside him again in indigenous teams or wherever, even when we're older and playing local footy but I wish him and his young family all the best."

When he graduated from the under-20s competition to a full-time NRL contract with the Tigers in 2010 Lui was very much identified as the joint venture's long-term solution at halfback and the perfect complement to the attacking flair of Benji Marshall.

But off-field troubles surfaced publicly for the first time at the end of the 2010 season and when Lui was convicted for a domestic violence assault following Mad Monday celebrations at the conclusion of 2011 the game took a hard line.

Although he had already committed to a move to North Queensland, Lui was suspended for 12 months. That suspension came into effect after he had made his club debut in Round 1, 2012 and he had to wait until Round 5, 2013 to earn an NRL recall.

He has been the first choice to partner Johnathan Thurston in the halves since Round 10 last season and recognises that it is now time to play a more senior role.

In a positive sign for coach Paul Green and Cowboys fans, Lui over-called Thurston to put the kick across for his side's second try against the Broncos last Friday night and is conscious of becoming the player that takes the pressure off the best player in the game.

Proof of that is the fact that Lui has had his hands on the ball on more occasions than Thurston in both games thus far in 2014, allowing Thurston to be more selective in when he asserts himself into proceedings.

"They're always going to come up on 'JT' because 'JT' is the best player in the world but that's where I can come in and get into my game," Lui said.

"When they focus on me, JT can do his thing. You've got other guys as well who are game-breakers, guys like Tariq Sims and Jimmy Tamou, but like I said, I've just got to demand the ball and take a bit of the heat off Johnno.

"That's what I want to be and that's what I'm going to be. I want to be there and take pressure off Johnno. It's harder to defend three playmakers in a team rather than just one, which is Johnno."

Losses like Friday night still hurt plenty but 12 months on from his exile Lui is appreciative of every game he now plays and the opportunity to resurrect his career

"I had that year off and I was watching games as a fan and a supporter of the Cowboys. Me and Tariq Sims, we both stuck together through the hard times," the 24-year-old said. "We're both enjoying it and I'm enjoying it and feel like I'm getting back there where I can play my best.

"It was tough, but that made me stronger for what I am today. When it's tough out on the field I think back to that time when I had a year off and say, 'You're here now, leave that behind, you've been through harder times in life.'"