Titans to issue Leva Li-feline
Former Wests Tigers and Parramatta under-20s winger Leva Li is set to continue his career on the Gold Coast with Titans coach Neil Henry earmarking him as a project for the future.
Li is one of four players who will turn out in a trial game between the Titans under-20s and Tweed Heads Seagulls on Saturday still hoping to earn a full-time NRL contract along with Jai Ingram, Agnatius Paasi and Damian Sironen.
Although the quartet were previously vying for two vacancies, Henry said the serious pectoral injury to Ben Ridge suffered in the trial against the Warriors last weekend may see three contracts handed out in the coming week.
Ingram would be the likely replacement for Ridge if Henry was to opt for like-for-like but Li's impressive performance against the Warriors and athletic frame has Henry excited about what he could bring to the team in future.
"He's a quiet kid, he's working hard and we're hopeful we can come to some sort of arrangement this week with him," Henry told NRL.com.
"Leva's not a kid who you say you're going to recruit now and he'll play 15 first grade games this year. He's straight out of Parramatta's NYC team playing centre and wing and we're saying he's a bit of a project for the future.
"If we can produce someone that's in our system for a year or two and steps up to first grade then that's going to be a bonus for us.
"We're not a particularly big backline. We don't have 105-kilo wingers. We've got a bit of speed there with 'Meady' (David Mead) and 'Zilly' (William Zillman) and 'Hoffy' (Josh Hoffman) has got a bit of size about him but we're not big through the centres and on the wings. He fits the bill physically for the future."
For 20-year-old Li, the chance to play in an NRL trial last weekend and further press his claims for a permanent position gives him hope that he can provide for his young family.
He has a two-year-old son and said that after receiving offers of only NSW Cup trial contracts in Sydney, was thrilled to finally step out in NRL company in Toowoomba for the Titans.
"That meant a lot to me. First NRL trial, so happy I got through uninjured, can't wait to play again," Li said.
"Hundred per cent, [that was] the most nervous I've ever felt! I was nervous maybe from the hotel; put the headphones on before anyone else while everyone else was still cruising.
"I was trying to calm myself down but it's the best feeling being nervous before a game, come out and get that first carry.
"For me, I had to approach it with everything I had. There's not many clubs out there that offered me much, all I had was maybe a NSW Cup pre-season and once this came up I just had to take it.
"Coming from a family that I come from, all struggle, my parents doing their best to help me out. I've got a twin too, he gave up on footy... It's the only thing I'm good at so if I can repay my parents I'll do my best to."
Ingram's fight to achieve his dream of playing in the NRL has also been hard fought and included under-20s stints at both Melbourne and the Bulldogs. He will play for Tweed in Saturday's trial at Cabarita and could be the beneficiary of the cruel injury to Ridge.
"'Ridgey' will be out for the first half of the season and that might open up the door for Jai Ingram a little bit because we've lost that back-rower. It does make us rethink whether or not Jai Ingram gets the opportunity to get a contract," Henry said.
"We'll make a decision on all these guys next week and it might end up that we end up signing three out of the four guys but Leva we see as part of the future at the moment.
"I'd have to say Agnatius Paasi played really well as well in the front row [against the Warriors]. He had a high work-rate and has worked hard to get his fitness in order and has maintained it and worked very hard since he's been here."