'I never believed in experience': Leilua
Joey Leilua is the Canberra Raiders' most seasoned NRL finals campaigner but it wasn't something he valued highly until recently.
Leilua has played seven finals games – by far the most at his club – and is the only current Raider to play in a grand final, which he did as an 18-year-old playing on the wing at the Roosters.
Six years on and the star centre said it was only in recent seasons that he had come to appreciate the value of experience in the top grade.
"I never used to believe in experience," Leilua said. "I always thought 'experience? Nah I don't need that.' I thought I could play first grade whenever.
"But now I've realised that you need experience. The growth I have had since I've arrived here in Canberra has allowed me to give it my best shot every week."
Leilua's September experienced has prompted the Earlwood Saints junior time to speak up at Raiders training.
Though it doesn't come without a laugh at his expense.
"It's quite exciting. I've told the boys time and time again just go through the same routine, don't change anything and give it your all because these opportunities don't come around too often," Leilua said.
"I usually let my actions do the talking because I'm not a speaking man, but every time I do speak the boys have a laugh because I never usually speak. But I tell them to never let their teammate down."
Leilua remains in a two-way tussle for the Dally M Centre of the Year award with teammate and Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker.
While he hates hearing others hand out raps about him, Leilua couldn't help but give Croker a glowing appraisal.
"(Croker's) leadership on the field is a great thing. I've been under a lot of captains in my career and I reckon he's up there with the best," Leilua said.
"This is the happiest I've been for sure," he added of his time at Canberra.
"But I hate raps. I don't like it because some days they can rap you and the next they can come back and kill you.
"My happiness has been a huge factor in my form. Off the field, my missus has been my rock. She makes me happy and we have a baby on the way which is exciting."
This article first appeared on NRL.com