Shades of '91 as Latu honours Panthers great
Leilani Latu wasn't even born when club legend Royce Simmons scored the most famous try in Panthers history to seal victory in the 1991 Grand Final, but the Penrith prop forward did his best impression for the Indigenous All Stars on Friday night in their crushing 34-8 win in Newcastle.
The 24-year-old was in the right spot at the right time to field a shallow line dropout from the World All Stars with 10 minutes to play, before he fended away from Sione Mata'utia and David Mead to score in the left corner.
While his try mattered little in the context of Friday's result, it brought back memories of Simmons's effort from 26 years ago that helped Penrith win their first premiership since joining the competition in 1967.
On that fateful Sunday afternoon at the Sydney Football Stadium, young firebrand Mark Geyer collected a bouncing Raiders dropout and offloaded to Simmons who spun out of a Gary Belcher tackle to score on practically the same blade of grass as Latu, albeit 164 kilometres away.
Friday's effort was the second time in as many years that Latu had been caught out of position but still managed to score, and he put this year's try down to fatigue brought on by Friday's extreme heat.
"I was just really tired at that moment. I was playing front row but I pushed our usual lock Chris Smith and said to him 'let me have a breather please' because I was blowing," he told NRL.com after the game.
"I saw that all the World All Stars were lining up on that shortside so I pre-empted that he was going to kick short, and he actually did!
"I was just surprised how things rolled my way. I ran into the centre and he slipped, I palmed the winger off and then I scored.
"All the boys were into me about having a fluke try last year when I pushed James Roberts out of the way, and now it's happened again. They're all laughing, but I told them 'look who's got a 100 per cent try-scoring rate now'."
While clearly similar to the try scored in 1991, Latu was quick to brush aside any comparisons to Simmons who he described as "one of the club greats".
"That try is there in our video montages and as a whole we know what Royce Simmons means to Penrith," he said.
"He's always looked at in high regard whenever he walks through the streets of Penrith, and even at the Academy at our training facility, all the boys stop to shake his hand when he's around. For us it's important to acknowledge what he has done for the club. I'm humbled if I've imitated that try in any way."
For Latu, the opportunity to represent the Indigenous All Stars for the second time was something he still hadn't come to terms with, with the humbly-spoken forward still pinching himself with how far he's come in the last two years.
"I never take anything for granted when it comes to my career in the NRL," he said.
"At one stage I thought that everything was finished for me, but I'm just grateful for the opportunity the club has given me and I'm blessed to be a part of this Indigenous All Stars campaign for the second year and to play with the best player in the game, Johnathan Thurston. I can't pinch myself enough to be doing something that I love doing."