Beale and Leutele reunited at Cronulla
They've been playing together since they were seven years old but now Sharks centre pairing Gerard Beale and Ricky Leutele will finally get a chance to run out together in first grade when Cronulla hosts the Raiders at Remondis Stadium on Sunday evening.
Fellow Brisbane locals and Logan Brothers juniors, the pair of talented 24-year-old centres have taken divergent paths since their Logan Brothers days, although both have carved themselves a fair niche.
Beale stayed in Brisbane all the way through to a first-grade debut, notching 63 games for the club he idolised as a kid and even getting to play alongside childhood hero Darren Lockyer. He's since spent two years at St George Illawarra and earned seven Test caps for New Zealand by virtue of his heritage.
Leutele shifted down to Cronulla early enough to play two seasons for their NYC side and has played 36 top-grade games since his 2010 debut, and has also represented the country of his heritage with two caps for Samoa last year.
But this Sunday marks the first time in their senior careers the two childhood friends will lace on the boots together, and new Sharks recruit Beale said having a few familiar faces in the Shire had helped him to adapt to life in Cronulla quickly.
"Ricky Leutele, I actually grew up with him. We played juniors together so it's good to get back with him," Beale told NRL.com.
"I was seven when I had my first game – there are a lot of good memories from back in the days, running around with mates.
"With Ricky there and playing all those junior games with him, to run out with him in an NRL game would be pretty cool."
While the pair has been named in the centres – with ex-Bulldog Mitch Brown on one wing and impressive youngster Sosaia Feki on the other – none can take anything for granted. One of 2014's breakout stars Valentine Holmes was named on an extended bench for Sunday's game, along with a player who starred alongside Holmes at the Auckland Nines, Jack Bird.
"It's good having that competition to make sure you're on top of your game and no-one's slacking. I'm sure everyone's going to get a chance this year," Beale said.
Leutele, who has developed a combination with Feki dating back to their time in NSW Cup together, told NRL.com he was also looking forward to reuniting with Beale in the Sharks line-up.
"It will be good to play with him again and he'll add a lot of spark for us out wide. I can't wait to link up with him in the centres," Leutele said.
While Beale quickly warmed to the new environment, with its fit-again roster and new coaching resources, Leutele was there through a tumultuous 2014 campaign that culminated in a wooden spoon.
"There is a lot of professionalism around the place now and plenty more leadership," he said.
"There have been a lot of good changes in a good way. We have all come together so it's more like a family to me now – like the club has become a big family. I have a baby on the way so it's exciting to be able to buy into the culture a bit more."
He admitted to having some mixed feelings about 2014, which did have a silver lining in that it was something of a watershed year in Leutele's career; he played all bar one game for the Sharks last season, with the 23 games he accumulated almost double the 13 matches he played in four previous seasons combined.
"I have mixed feelings about last year but I can take a lot of positives out of last season too and bring that into this year with our newfound culture," he said.
"[Coach Shane Flanagan has] talked to me about coming more of a leader as I'm getting a bit older because there are a lot of young kids coming through, so Flanno just wants me to set a good example and get out there and hopefully have a good go."
Off contract at the end of 2015, Leutele knows he needs a big year with some talented young outside backs coming up through the ranks.
"I'm out to make a bigger statement – I want to let everyone know that I'm not here just to go through the motions," he said.
"I'm off-contract so that's another motivator for me to essentially set my family and I up. Sometimes it plays on the back of mind a little bit but if I do everything right then everything will fall into place."