Gus guidance calms Katoa
Once serving a suspension seemingly "every other week" due to his own small-man syndrome, Sione Katoa is gunning to replace one of Penrith's biggest figures thanks to a Phil Gould intervention.
With captain Peter Wallace, 32, expected to retire at season's end, Katoa has an early jump in the race for his No.9 jumper, where he will start again this week in Saturday's showdown with the Dragons.
Rising rake Wayde Egan justifiably has big wraps on him out west, but Katoa also ranks highly in Gould's book after he watched him carve up a 2015 Junior Kiwis-Roos clash that featured Valentine Holmes, Ash Taylor, Coen Hess and Te Maire Martin.
Gould rated Katoa best on ground, but privately had held concerns about the youngster's kitchen sink approach to defence having kept an eye on him throughout his under 20s days.
"I used to just play the game with too much aggression," Katoa, now 23, grins.
"I used to fly out of the line, coming from New Zealand you could do shoulder charges back then but obviously the game's changed and become safer for everyone, so I wiped that out of my game.
"Gus said to me 'we can't have you playing the season from the sidelines, clean up your game'.
"In 20s I think I missed maybe eight games from suspensions across a season, all different ones, it felt like every other week sometimes. There was a couple of high tackles, a mid-air tackle, they weren't intentional.
"I was just throwing my body into it trying to get some of those big boys that run around in the 20s.
"Now I'm going in with all the aggression still, but using it elsewhere in the game. Not putting shoulder charges on but being smart about it.
"I just practiced my tackle technique a bit more, did some extras after every session and it didn't take too long to get rid of it."
Katoa will line up for his 20th NRL game this week with Wallace out due to a shoulder injury, having jagged a round 26 debut during Penrith's 2015 injury crisis.
It's been a steady rise for the Wellington-born product, who played schoolboy footy alongside Panthers prodigies Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone May.
After initially being brought across the ditch by the Roosters, Katoa has graduated through Penrith's systems to a World Cup campaign with Tonga, firming as Wallace's understudy along the way.
"I'm still getting my groove and getting used to first grade a little bit but I'm loving it," Katoa tells NRL.com.
"Every week, Wal's always talking about what we can see in an opposition defence and what I need
to work on during the week.
"He's been good for me. We do video together and then us middles get together and go through it all, it's been good having Wal help me there.
"I've been coming through the grades here for a while and now playing NRL it's another target for me, that No.9 jersey. I'm in competition with Wayde and he's a good talent coming through, but that chance is up for grabs for both of us."