Li's injury woes push him to dream debut
After working so hard just to earn a contract at the Titans at the beginning of the year, a stress fracture in debutant Leva Li's foot midway through the season meant he thought he would have to put his NRL dreams on hold.
However after pushing his way into the Titans' squad as a late replacement for the injured Kane Elgey in their 36-14 loss to the Bulldogs, Li showed commitment in bouncing back from his injury.
After being one of four players signed by the club on a train-and-trial basis over the pre-season, the former Wests Tigers and Eels Under 20s winger has been committed to working hard since the summer months.
Earning an NRL contract just three weeks from the season commencing after impressing in a trial against the Warriors in Toowoomba, Li was blown away by the opportunity to debut and dedicated his maiden game to the special people in his life.
"My main goal [after being injured] was to just get back to being healthy and come back bigger, stronger and faster so I could have another proper crack next year. So 100 per cent this is the cherry on top for my season," Li told NRL.com.
"It was so frustrating at first. Because I was finding my feet a bit and I thought I was going well and then as I was working my way back they told me I needed to find my leg speed again and my strength, so I worked hard on that.
"Now I just hope my family is proud of me, and my son. Everything I do is for my son and my aunty who passed away this year. This season is for her.
"All of my family came down for my debut to support me which was good too. The Titans looked after them by booking them a hotel for the night here. I'm stoked, I'm still buzzing. Even on the field I was like 'far out, I'm tackling all these good players?'"
Expressing the lengths he has come since walking to his junior league games barefooted back in Sydney, Li said the Titans was essentially the defining sink or swim moment of his rugby league career.
"I guess the Titans were my last chance so I had to perform well or go home. It's massively, massively paid off. I'm glad they gave me an opportunity to train and trial and for the faith they have shown in me to give me the crack," Li said.
"I have had to put my head down and it's paid off so I'm grateful. Hopefully I can continue my run and get a couple of more games this season. If not, I'll go back to Queensland Cup to do my job and keep progressing. It's onwards and upwards for me now."
Titans coach Neil Henry also spoke of his happiness for Li following his debut, where he produced 110 metres and a tackle break.
"He was a bit cautious early, which you can't blame him for because he didn't want to make a mistake. I thought he had a couple of nice touches and got away a couple of good play-the-balls for us," Henry said.
"He'll take some confidence out of it. I know as a group we were very pleased for him and he did his job out there for a young kid. I think he has a bright future and hopefully he gets a bit of confidence out of that performance."