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'We can do something great': family illness driving Leiluas

Joey Leilua envisioned the prospect of playing next to younger brother Luciano in the NRL one day but never dared to talk to him about it.

In fact, for most of Luciano's early stages of his NRL career, the pair have hardly spoken at all.

Not about footy, or even life in general.

"When I do go back to mum and dad's house we argue anyway, with him thinking he's better than me," Joey told NRL.com in February last year.

"We hardly ever talk. I don't watch him play much, he's not on my radar. When we do get together and catch up it's like nothing has changed and we've been together every day."

Call it tough brotherly love or simply Joey's competitive nature spilling from the paddock into his family ties, the former Raider continued to explain why he doesn't give into Luciano easy.

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"I want him to make his own name, that way he can walk on his own two feet and it's more deserving for him," he said.

"I don't want him to play rep games because I'm playing. I've never wanted that. I want him to earn his spot regardless of where he is. It's fair for others then."

Luciano backs up Joey's tough stance on him. There is a five-year age gap between the pair.

"I don't get much credit from him, hardly ever," Luciano said.

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"He tells me what to work on sometimes but I won't get anything in return. It's always been that he's had it over me and done it on purpose."

Almost 12 months to the day NRL.com interviewed Joey in Canberra, both brothers have now found themselves at Wests Tigers and alongside each other for the first time in their NRL careers.

Incredibly, they never crossed paths on the paddock in Luciano's first four seasons in the game with injuries, suspensions and the luck of the draw preventing any chance of a backyard reunion.

"Every year something happened," former Dragon Luciano said.

"I debuted late in the first year [in 2016] and then I didn't get picked in the second year. Then I got injured after that and he got injured with his neck injury last year."

As fate would have it, their homecoming of sorts to Sydney's inner west is a welcome result for Joey and Luciano's mother Aranata, who has fallen seriously ill recently.

"The most important thing was for mum to have both her sons back at home," Luciano said.

"We didn't want to miss this opportunity and I think we can do something great here."

Former Dragons backrower Luciano Leilua has joined the Tigers.
Former Dragons backrower Luciano Leilua has joined the Tigers. ©NRL Photos

If the early stages of Luciano's NRL career was minimally impacted by Joey's influence, it's about to go to a whole new level.

Joey is training next to Luciano on the right edge at the Wests Tigers, while the pair are also living together for the time being.

Just don't take them both outside to the backyard like old times.

"He's felt these shoulders before, I used to beat him all the time in the backyard and still would now," Joey grinned. 

"But he might get me when I'm 40."

Former Raiders centre Joey Leilua has joined his brother at the Tigers.
Former Raiders centre Joey Leilua has joined his brother at the Tigers. ©NRL Photos

Joey's weight issues have been highlighted throughout his 11-year career, more recently last month, but Luciano is confident his older brother can get into the right shape before the season starts.

Luciano is also on the fitness train, shedding five kilos over the off-season under Head of Performance Andrew Gray.

"He has done a big job around my diet, I'm at 109 kilos which is a big step for me," Luciano said.

"That's the lightest I've been since coming into first grade so I feel more healthier and it's helping me with running technique and in motions.

"That's one thing Madge and I were talking about is if I have to play big minutes, we both want me to be able to do that."