Latu's three-year wait for Bulldogs reckoning
Leilani Latu fought back tears following the Panthers' 28-12 win over his former Bulldogs side on Sunday as he finally brushed a chip off his shoulder that's been with him for the past three years.
Latu was one of the Bulldogs' most promising juniors several seasons ago, where he and "his brother" New South Wales Origin star David Klemmer forged a destructive partnership as they progressed through junior representative teams.
However injuries quickly proved Latu's kryptonite and would eventually cost him his career at the club he'd known even before his Harold Matthews under-16s selection.
The now 23-year-old was restricted to 18 games in two seasons of Holden Cup before another injury-riddled year of Intrust Super Premiership saw him cut loose by the Bulldogs.
It took 29 NRL games before Latu was able to face his Bulldogs demons, and as fate would have it, it would be in the biggest game of career.
"This game was a big thing for me mentally. I put all of my heart and soul into Canterbury and it was just unfortunate how things panned out," Latu told NRL.com.
"I have no animosity against my old team. It was unfortunate that injuries cost me my career there.
"I was pretty emotional after the game because finally it's over – I have that chip off my shoulder now when it comes to playing against my old team.
"It's been a game I've been waiting for and it was fitting how the whole arena was set: that it was a finals game and whoever loses was going to be eliminated."
In the space of three years, Latu has gone from the doghouse to a penthouse situated at the foot of the mountains.
Latu signed a four-year deal in July to remain at the Panthers until the end of the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership season – a far cry from when he was originally let go by the Bulldogs.
"I didn't have any offers at all when the Bulldogs let me go," Latu recalled.
"But one day Phil Gould (Panthers General Manager) rang me out of the blue and told me he'd seen enough highlights of me to sign me for the Panthers.
"He said he could see me playing first grade for a very long time if I was willing to put in the hard work. Every effort I've ever put in since has been because of what Gus saw in me.
"At the time I was thinking: 'how does he know who I am?' It was just crazy. And now I'm so pleased to say that I'll be able to spend another four years here."
The Panthers will now head to GIO Stadium this Saturday night for a do-or-die semi-final clash with the Canberra Raiders.
According to Latu, the Panthers' 16-point win over the Bulldogs was built on the confidence coach Anthony Griffin provided them throughout the week.
"'Hook' (Griffin) knew exactly what to say to us this week. He said the Bulldogs were going to come out fast and hard so we knew exactly what to prepare for," Latu said.
"But he also told us we had enough natural ability across the park to capitalise when they became tired and that's what we did.
"There's a lot of belief in this team but we're taking it slowly," Latu added.
"We're coming up against an even bigger pack in Canberra so for now the boys are just excited we're one of the top six."
Game on. Data off.
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