Latu shapes as Panthers leader
It was late last month when Penrith's General Manager Phil Gould labelled prop Leilani Latu as an important component to the Panthers moving forward and now NRL.com can tell you why.
Latu re-signed with the Panthers until the end of 2020 season three weeks ago, his huge contract backed by the fact Penrith's hierarchy view the 23-year-old as a future leader of the club.
Just extended his contract by three years. He's currently undergoing leadership training. He is very important to us https://t.co/QXmq6FosjA— Phil Gould (@Gus10Gould) July 27, 2016
Latu is one of five Penrith players who are undergoing training as part of the club's five-man leadership group.
Spearheaded by coach Anthony Griffin – who implemented a similar program during his time at the Broncos – and Gould, Latu said his time spent with the group has improved his football.
Latu is joined by Panthers skipper Matt Moylan and back-rowers Trent Merrin, Bryce Cartwright and Isaah Yeo in the group.
"It's helping develop our skills not only on the field but off it in terms of life after football, how we handle our future and the situations we may face. That's how the core leadership course and group is run," Latu told NRL.com.
"It helps us lead the team around and helps us become selfless teammates. We meet once every fortnight or so to talk and get a feel about the direction the team is heading in.
"We also work out what we can do to help the direction we're heading or fix something.
"It's obviously something I'm thankful for, that they see leadership qualities in me especially with it being such a great club. I've seen improvements each year in my game and within myself off the field."
Latu's newfound leadership skills came into play prior to Penrith's last start 38-18 win over the Roosters.
The St Johns Eagles junior found himself partnered in the front row with Moses Leota, who started for the first time in his young NRL career last Monday night.
"I took Moses aside and told him he had to handle himself well," Latu said.
"He had to breathe properly and to not let the adrenalin get the best of him. He was good which was awesome."
It wasn't too long ago that Latu found himself in a similar position.
It was Round 7 this year where Latu made his starting debut, coincidentally against the Roosters.
Latu said afterwards that he was a nervous wreck in the lead-up to his first taste of starting in the NRL.
Starting in seven games since, Latu said the nerves will remain until the day he retires.
"I'm a lot calmer now. But in saying that, the nerves still kick in just before game time. I think if you don't have nerves then you don't have the love for the game," he said.
"I've never come across someone who has played, that wasn't nervous before a game. I've always told myself that if I'm not nervous to play then that's the day you retire.
"Being able to start a couple of times now has definitely given me further experience to handle things."