Latu reaping rewards of rep footy
Penrith Panthers forward Leilani Latu says his time with the Indigenous All Stars earlier this year has helped him take his game to the next level.
Having played just six first-grade games at the time, Latu received a late call-up to the Indigenous All Stars squad after Chris Grevsmuhl and Alex Johnston both withdrew, celebrating his inclusion with a try just before half-time.
And after producing four impressive stints off the bench for the Panthers since, it's clear to see just how valuable his time with the Indigenous All Stars was.
"The All Star weekend was a bag of emotions," Latu told NRL.com following Saturday night's loss to the Cowboys.
"It was incredible that I got to spend a whole week with the superstars that I used to look up to. The whole experience was just incredible.
"I spent a lot of time with Cliff Lyons, Wendell Sailor and other rugby league greats. They just gave me insight on how to handle myself, how to control myself and how to be calm in tough situations. I think I've taken everything I can out of that week."
Latu says the week he spent in camp helped him learn a lot; from ways to improve his game to understanding more about his Tongan and Torres Straight Island heritage.
"The Fifita boys [Andrew and David] really took me under their wings being Tongan as well," the Panthers forward said.
"For the most part, being up there was about learning about my heritage – being Torres Strait Islander – and giving back to the community.
"Queensland has got an awesome spirit about rugby league and you saw that at Suncorp Stadium when we played."
Latu more than held his own against some of the game's biggest stars, and managed to cross for his side's opening four-pointer in the annual pre-season fixture.
The 23-year-old admits he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, even if it meant stealing the try from one of his more fancied teammates.
"I was fortunate to get that try. It was my second time coming on the field, and Andrew Fifita sort of just said to the trainer 'I'm tired, I'm tired'," Latu said.
"I looked up and saw the ball coming my way and ended up pushing in front of James Roberts. He wasn't happy, so I said to him 'come on bro, you're going to score about a thousand tries this year, so let me have one'."
While he's yet to open his try-scoring account for the Panthers, Latu has been happy to play the role of provider, setting up two tries for Bryce Cartwright in almost identical circumstances close to the line with deft short passing.
"Me and 'Cart' go way back to Patrician Brothers Blacktown," he said.
"He knows my tendencies and I know his. We've built a good relationship on that right edge. We just look for what the defence brings us and if he's there, he's there.
"Coach [Anthony Griffin] has faith in me to use that ball playing skill. First and foremost it's run straight and be aggressive, but if the pass is there then he tells me to go for it."
Latu told NRL.com that he developed his ability to ball-play at the line during his years coming through the ranks at the Bulldogs.
"The ball playing skills got developed when I was at the Bulldogs," he said.
"James Graham came to the club and he sort of started using all those ball skills, but Jim Dymock was the mastermind behind my playing skills.
"I always watch James Graham to see how he passes, how he runs and how he holds himself, but I have to give the credit to Jim."