The six days that made Ricky Leutele
How far would you go to prove yourself?
Four years ago Sharks centre Ricky Leutele pushed himself to the absolute limit in name of his NRL career.
Midway through the 2012 season, an off-contract Leutele played an unbelievable three games in six days.
First playing on Wednesday night for the New South Wales residents in the curtain raiser for State of Origin III at Suncorp Stadium, Leutele backed up on Saturday for the Sharks' reserve grade outfit.
Then on the Monday Leutele was running out for just his fourth ever NRL game against the Roosters.
Receiving a call from Sharks coach Shane Flanagan at 4pm that afternoon, Leutele was drafted in as a late replacement for an ill Colin Best.
Making matters worse for the then 22-year-old, the game against the Tricolours ended in a thrilling 90-minute, 14-all draw.
Leutele's courage snowballed into further success as he played six of the final nine games of the Sharks' 2012 campaign.
On Sunday, Leutele – the current second-longest serving Shark behind skipper Paul Gallen – will run out on ANZ Stadium for the NRL Telstra Premiership decider against the Storm.
"When I was called up to play that Monday night, I was a bit nervous but it was important for me to play and showcase what I had. I was off-contract that year so that weekend really helped set me up," Leutele told NRL.com.
"I found my feet in first grade from that point. The back end of 2012 is definitely the reason I've made it this far in my career."
Leutele was restricted to just three games in 2013 after tearing the Lisfranc ligament in his foot.
The Samoan international was left devastated following a roller-coaster pre-season after being picked ahead of Ben Pomeroy as one of the Sharks' first-choice centres.
Off-contract at season's end again, Leutele's saving grace was the promising signs exhibited the season prior.
"I had a huge pre-season in 2013 because of the wakeup call I received when we started back. I returned overweight. I was pretty heavy and Flanno pulled me aside and told me if I wanted to play in this team then I needed to get myself right," Leutele said.
"So that was another turning point for me in my career. I was so grateful Flanno threw me a lifeline to stay another year with an option for the season after that in their favour.
"It worked out so well for me and I have Flanno to thank. He's always been there for me."
When asked of Leutele's development, Flanagan didn't have to think too far back to hail his best career performance was last weekend's preliminary final win over the Cowboys.
"He's had some moments especially over the last month playing with injury. He did his AC joint two months ago, missed three or four games, and has come back strong," Flanagan told NRL.com.
"The weekend's game was the best game he's ever played for the club."
Leutele still can't believe his luck after an emotional seven years where he's seen finals football, ASADA-influenced drama and a wooden spoon.
"I've seen the highs and the lows of the club. It's hard to believe we're now off to a grand final," Leutele said.
"It's a pretty cool feeling. I've seen a lot in the last seven seasons since I've debuted, the club has come a long way from when I first started."