Latu lured to Titans by Brennan text
Garth Brennan's agenda on his first day as an NRL coach included the speculation storm around Jarryd Hayne, the $3 million contract tabled to in-demand half Ash Taylor, and possibly a question around who would be his boss considering the Gold Coast Titans were up for sale.
Within the first 48 hours of trying to right the sinking Titans ship, Brennan also found time to message Penrith Panthers powerhouse Leilani Latu.
"I've got a spot up here for you at the Titans."
Given he'd come from Penrith's inner sanctum, Brennan likely knew something Latu didn't in October, with the machinations of the James Maloney-Matt Moylan switch about to kick into overdrive.
Latu, despite being happily contracted until the end of 2020, wound up as collateral salary cap damage of Maloney's move.
Brennan was banging down the door again. First down the phone line, then with a personal tour, and finally with a healthy three-year deal to match Latu's Panthers contract.
"As soon as he got the coaching gig, the day after I got that message – 'I've got a spot up here' – and I showed my wife," Latu told NRL.com.
"We both laughed it off in October, but after I got the tap on the shoulder I was straight back to him asking if the offer was still on the table.
"He took me around the Gold Coast, showed me the lifestyle, the training facilities and from everything I saw, I loved it.
"...There were a few other clubs showing interest, but none of them were as forthcoming as the Titans. Garth was ringing me, he was messaging me and really pushed the envelope to get me up here.
"That's a huge confidence boost when a coach goes over and beyond to get you in his team. It ended up being an easy decision."
The conversations that forced Latu from the foot of the mountain were anything but easy.
He and wife Kenina had just learned they were expecting their first son in May, and had banked on the family support they have in Western Sydney.
In 2013 a private number on his phone turned out to be Phil Gould, armed with a minimum-wage $80,000 contract. The offer gave Latu the second crack at the NRL he feared had passed him by after his stint at Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs went no further than the lower grades.
But in October another chat with Gould brought a premature end to his time with Penrith – where he kicked the endless injuries of his youth to earn City Origin honours.
"It was a bit unfortunate," Latu said.
"It was three weeks into training and there was a lot of speculation about James Maloney coming over and that was a talking point at training, and eventually Phil Gould pulled me aside.
"Gus has never lied to me and he was straight up, he told me the truth, which is all you can ever ask for. He didn't hide away from it. They wanted to keep me but that was the way the cap had to go.
"I spoke to Hook (coach Anthony Griffin) as well and he gave me his honest opinion ... he also confided how hard it is to move around with footy and your family because he's moved with so many different teams and he understood the tough decision I had."
With no hard feelings toward his old coach, Latu is relishing the relationship with his new one.
Brennan and Latu are rekindling a bond that started six years ago, when the latter was rated one of the hottest prop prospects in the game and the equal of his good mate, representative star David Klemmer.
"I knew Garth back when I was 18 from when he was assistant coach of the NSW 18s side," Latu said.
"I took so much from his coaching that I grabbed his number and stayed in contact, I'd try and see him when he was in Newcastle and I was at Canterbury, and then when he came down to Penrith I could catch him a bit more.
"When I was let go by the Dogs, Brenno ended up being my NSW Cup coach at Penrith and I just knew he'd get the best out of me. He was always reminding me that not too many players get a second chance, and that I had to grab that with two hands.
"Coming to the Titans… the major factor was I knew the coach I was coming to and that he'd give me the freedom to play my footy and get the best out of me."