He's the Panthers player that fans have been craving for years – someone with a bit size, a bit of grunt, a bit of attitude. Someone that opposition players are afraid to play.
Whether 22-year-old front-rower Leilani Latu can live up to those expectations long term remains to be seen, but his first grade debut against South Sydney last Sunday certainly gave fans a lot to be hopeful for.
In Latu’s first 31 minutes of NRL action, he ran 10 times for 93 metres whilst making 15 tackles – a solid debut for someone who’s walked the dreaded rugby league path of uncertainty.
Before joining Penrith last season, Latu was a member of Canterbury’s Holden Cup side where he suffered a number of serious injuries that almost ended his fledgling career.
“I had some bad luck at the Dogs with injuries. I had to deal with a broken bone in my foot, a shoulder reconstruction and a lot of cartilage had to be taken out of my knee,” Latu revealed to Extra Time.
“It’s been a long journey, at first I thought I’d never play again after I left the Dogs but I’m blessed that Gus Gould gave me a lifeline. These past two years I’ve been trying to give back to him what he gave me.”
While Latu admits it’s been a long, hard road of uncertain moments and recovery, he believes it’s made him a stronger, more well-rounded player in the process.
“It’s been a long journey but also a pleasant one. I’ve made lifelong friends and I’ve felt as though I’ve improved a lot over the past two years with various mentors,” he said.