New Titan Latu ready to lead from the front
Leilani Latu, the late-bloomer of the three recruits rookie coach Garth Brennan has brought to the Gold Coast from Penrith, knows it is time to step up and be more than a bench player and lead from the front, literally, in a Titans side pack short on proven NRL experience.
He goes into Saturday's trial match against the Warriors on the Sunshine Coast with one clear intention – to prove he is a genuine starting front-rower and team leader and no longer a bit-part bench man.
With Queensland prop Jarrod Wallace unavailable until round three because of suspension and Brennan's intention to slot skipper Ryan James into the back row, Leilani knows the responsibility he has inherited.
The 25-year-old has started in just 14 of his 49 NRL games after debuting as a 22-year-old in round 21, 2015. He stood in a holding pattern behind Panthers international props James Tamou and Reagan Campbell-Gillard last season, making all his 19 appearances from the interchange seat.
Yet, among the inexperience and youthful Titans pack that will have only three 100-game-plus NRL campaigners their starting 13 for round one in James, hooker Nathan Peats and Kevin Proctor if he recovers from a throat injury, Leilani says he has to take on a senior leadership role, and feels he is up to the task.
He'll have a walk-up start to the No.8 or 10 jerseys with Wallace absent, Broncos recruit Jai Arrow (ribs) and Jake Stockwell (shoulder) struggling to recover in time and the rest of the front row stocks just kids in Max King, Jai Whitbread, 18-year-old Moeaki Fotuaika and centre forward Keegan Hipgrave (also suspended).
"I'm out to claim a starting front row position," Leilani professed, "that's what I am aspiring to for round one versus Canberra.
"Garth has asked a lot of me this pre-season and that's no surprise, it was the same as that as Penrith.
"I'm down to 112kg (from 116kg), I'm trying to get that starting front row position.
"I've had Jarrod Wallace talking to me a bit, trying to help me with a leadership role in the forward pack. It's a young forward pack but a lot of maturity there and some experience there too.
"It's a credit to what I had to deal with at Penrith (that he was a 'support' team member); there were a lot of representative players there in the pack and me being 23 or 24 and being categorised as a young prop in that squad.
"A lot of them, like James Tamou and Trent Merrin, helped me take on a lot of the leadership qualities they showed me. That is what I am trying to do here with such a young pack (replicate their influence).
"They all want to learn here, that's the pleasing thing. They are all hungry to get their debut in first grade debut Garth has given them a green light to show what they have and just lay it down.
"The Warrior swill come through the middle and he (Brennan) has put a big emphasis on the rucks and how we have to control it."
Leilani debuted with his new club against the Broncos last Saturday in a team with little NRL experience but he will have the benefit of James, Nathan Peats and half Ash Taylor returning against the Warriors in the Sunshine Coast trial, along with centre Konrad Hurrell and new boys Michael Gordon, Mitch Rein and Will Matthews as every fit player was considered.
Still unavailable are Arrow (ribs), Anthony Don (shoulder), Morgan Boyle (shoulder), Ryan Simpkins (knee), Stockwell (shoulder), Brenko Lee (knee), Proctor (throat) and Wallace (suspension).
The Titans team: 1. Michael Gordon, 2. Brendan Elliot, 3. Dale Copley, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 5. Phillip Sami, 6. Kane Elgey, 7. Ash Taylor, 8. Leilani Latu, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Max King, 11. Ryan James, 12. Will Matthews, 13. Bryce Cartwright. Interchange: 14. Mitch Rein, 15. Keegan Hipgrave, 16. Jai Whitbread, 17. Joe Greenwood, 18. Moeaki Fotuaika, 19. Alexander Brimson, 20. Karl Lawton, 21. Tyronne Roberts-Davis, 22. Kiah Cooper, 23. Tony Matautia