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'Four days in tears' give Leilua perspective with Canberra future clouded

Joey Leilua's future is up in the air but four days spent in tears as a teenager has the Raiders star simply thankful to be playing footy for a living.

Canberra recently gave Leilua permission to negotiate with NRL rivals ahead of Friday's grand final qualifying clash against South Sydney. understands that Leilua is facing a pay cut to remain in the ACT when his current contract expires at the end of 2020, with the Raiders giving him permission to test the market after his management initially asked about extending his deal with the club.

It's the latest development in an off-the-wall season that saw Leilua told a neck injury could have left him paralysed, only for his successful recovery to put him back on the paddock just three months later.

Even his last finals outing was sidetracked by a scarcely believable eye injury caused by a stray firework.

But a week's worth of work experience in the kitchen of his local golf course as a 16-year-old has always kept Leilua coming back to the greatest game of all.

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"I've only had two jobs in my life. That's playing NRL and cooking, working in hospitality," Leilua told before his uncertain future with Canberra was revealed last week.

"All I did was cut onions, and I only lasted four days.

"It was when I was in high school so it was part of work experience for a week. I didn't like it and that's what made me make sure I played first grade.

"I was 16 and I'd be there in that kitchen crying every single day that week from the onions. They killed me. I would've cut up at least 200 a day.

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"It was at the local RSL down near Kirawee, the Kareela golf course I think.

"My eyes would be watering the entire time, all I can remember from it is cutting onions to be honest.

"I'd get to fry something here and there but otherwise, just prepping onions. By the fourth day we just said we're not coming back and I didn't go back on the last day.

"So I chose footy."

Leilua will line up against South Sydney centre Dane Gagai with the Test and Queensland Origin flyer still smarting from being manhandled by Sea Eagles opposite Moses Suli, who boasts a similar build and power-game to Leilua.

"I don't ever want to dish up something like that again," Gagai said of his suspect defensive efforts against Manly.

"I'm definitely going to be better next week against the Raiders because they're in good form and playing some good footy."

The Raiders will host the Rabbitohs with a club attendance record set to fall for the first preliminary final played in the nation's capital.

Canberra are expecting a crowd of around 28,000 to pack out GIO Stadium, with the match officially sold out on Tuesday morning as the final general public ticket allocation was snapped up by punters in just six minutes.

Extra seating for the South Sydney clash is set to eclipse the current Raiders' crowd record – the 26,476 that attended a nail-biting 2010 finals loss to Wests Tigers.

GIO Stadium's current configuration means the ground record of 28,753 – set when the Brumbies downed Canterbury in the 2004 Super Rugby final – will remain out of reach.

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