How Good Is... Joey Leilua
Not many bright lights shined on the Knights' fortunes in 2014 in what was a devastating year for the club. Yet throughout the club's trials and tribulations, players like centre Joey Leilua stood tall in the face of adversity.
Even before showcasing his devastating form for Samoa at the Four Nations, Leilua was excelling at Hunter Stadium, especially with the football in hand.
The 22-year-old Arncliffe Scots junior amazingly racked up his 100th appearance in the final round of the NRL season, and while he has had his troubles in the past, a seemingly more mature Leilua made people stand up and notice him over the course of the year.
What made 2014 so special?
Leilua has an uncanny knack of breaking through the opposition defence with relative ease. It's essentially what makes him stand out.
The former 18th man for New South Wales is also a handy offloader, which allows plenty of his Newcastle teammates to play off his shoulder in support.
During the season Leilua racked up 14 line-break assists, usually off the back of a tackle bust or two, with the centre frequently getting an arm free before handing it off back inside to the likes of Tyrone Roberts, Robbie Rochow or Chris Houston.
Leilua finished the season as the eighth-most prolific tackle buster in NRL, with 92 breaks credited to him across 22 appearances.
His impressive Four Nations appearances for Samoa capped off a stellar year. With particularly memorable displays against England and New Zealand, Leilua busted through 20 attempted tackles in three appearances and racked up an average of 124.3 metres per Test.
How can he be better in 2015?
While Leilua's offloading ability is a quality part of his arsenal, the same cannot be said of his passing game. Though it's sure to improve as he gains experience, you can't help but feel sorry for his winger with Leilua's wayward passes inclined to create plenty of errors.
An overlap down Newcastle's left side tends to only be beneficial if Leilua holds onto the ball, with his attempted passes out wide at times landing at his winger's feet or in the fifth row of Hunter Stadium, which explains his 28 errors in 2014 (equal 16th across the competition).
Another aspect of his game that is sure to improve with age is his defensive reads. Known predominately as a winger during his time at the Sydney Roosters, Leilua has become a regular centre in Newcastle. While 36 missed tackles in 2014 is nothing to be overly concerned about, a tighter defensive game will only contribute to his progress as a better-rounded player.
Which new signing will have the greatest influence on him?
Tariq Sims' arrival is sure to help Joey Leilua in a defensive capacity.
With Beau Scott taking out a mortgage out on Newcastle's right edge back-rower spot for at least the next two seasons, Sims will have to settle in on the left-hand side when he makes his debut for the club in Round 5.
With Sims and Jarrod Mullen beside him, Leilua will surely be a benefactor with the experienced duo sure to help him out with marking up and defensive reads.