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It was the sight of Tongan front-rower Leilani Latu breaking down in the tunnel pre-game that captured what the Representative Round meant for many rugby league players heading into the remainder of the NRL Telstra Premiership season.


That was the first word used to describe the experience for the Panthers prop-forward, who scored a double against Fiji including the match-winner with two minutes left on the clock.

Lined up behind another Tongan debutant in Manu Vatuvei, an emotional Latu admitted the occasion got the best of him before taking to the field.

"Everything felt like a blur, it all went so quick. Before we walked out I was standing behind Manu and could see that he was teary so I started as well and couldn't control it," Latu told of the experience.

"I tried so hard to stop crying but when you sing the anthem for the first time, emotions run wild and our coach (Kristian Woolf) just told us to control that and put it into the game.

"We got together the night before the game and everyone heard each other talk about what it meant to play in a Tongan jersey, it really brought out a vulnerable side to everyone and we took that out onto the field."

Despite a two-win and seven-loss record to start the season, Penrith were happy to release as many players as possible for the weekend across all five games.

Australian international Trent Merrin was solid against the Kiwis in a 48-minute effort, while New Zealand pair Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare fought hard in the 18-point loss to the Kangaroos in Canberra.

Panthers trio Matt Moylan, Bryce Cartwright and James Tamou all found form in the final City-Country game and back-rower Viliame Kikau was among Fiji's best in a beaten side with a four-pointer and try assist of his own.

"I'm sure I can speak for everyone by saying that everyone was glad our coach (Anthony Griffin) gave us the OK to play in the representative round," Latu said.

"He knew how important it was for each individual that did get picked that they could gain some confident and experience out of the week. 

"Hopefully now every individual can take what they've learned back to the club and put our best foot forward for Penrith."

It will be another special occasion for Latu in Saturday afternoon's clash against the Warriors with the National Rugby League embracing Indigenous Round across all eight games.

With a proud indigenous heritage, Latu's emotion could yet again be on display at Pepper Stadium.

This article first appeared on

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.