Leilua notches up 100 on significant day
In what can be classed as a rollercoaster of a career so far, Joey Leilua is set to reach 100 NRL games at the age of just 22 when the Knights take on St George Illawarra on Sunday.
After off-field discretions resulted in the centre being sacked in 2012 by the Sydney Roosters, where he had played 59 games and earned 18th man honours for New South Wales, Leilua's move to Newcastle has seen the man come out the other side a better player as he reaches the significant milestone.
While Leilua was humble when quizzed about his century of appearances, the Hurstville junior realised the importance of the match in Newcastle with Old Boys Day coinciding with the club's final home game of the year.
"You want to play for those past players and make them proud because these are the people that have worn that jersey before you," Leilua said.
"It always comes to mind when you're out there on the field so you're always trying to give your best performance.
"You always want to play your best game when it is your last and you know you're not going to make the top eight. We just need to give it our best and I'll be definitely doing that in our final game."
Having earned 40 caps for the Knights under Wayne Bennett, Leilua was thankful for the opportunities the club has presented him – from his teammates to the veteran coach.
"The boys have been really special to me since I've been here. Even from day one they have opened the door to me and really embraced me," Leilua said.
"They don't think about what I have done in the past, they have just accepted me and been wonderful and the town has been great so I love it and I'm definitely thankful of the opportunity.
"[As for Bennett] he has improved me in a lot of areas. Obviously with my fitness the most, but there's stuff off the field as well. He has helped me calm down... so that has been helpful."
Newcastle are shooting for their eighth win in 11 games and a fifth consecutive win at home, and Leilua's 10 tries, 13 try assists, 90 tackle breaks (seventh in the NRL) and 115 metres per game this year have been a massive reason for the Knights' recent run of form.
"I put it down to consistency with training," Leilua said.
"I'm just trying to get back to where I was before I got into trouble... I fell apart, I put too much weight on, but I have been able to trim it down and I just feeling more focused on the field."
After arguably his best performance of the season against the Eels last week, Leilua is confident the Knights' run can continue against St George Illawarra – and his showdown with Dragons centre Josh Dugan will be one not to miss come Sunday afternoon.