Joey Leilua gives the Tigers' Fans a Reason to be Optimistic

Joey Leilua is one of the NRL's great characters.

Anything is possible when he's on the field. Whether the result of his involvement is good or bad, you can't take your eyes off him.

Off the field, he's not afraid to call it how he sees it. Just days after leaving the Canberra Raiders for the Wests Tigers, Leilua wasted no time in providing the open and honest interview most players avoid.

He's frustrating, complicated, destructive and dominant.

Joey Leilua is precisely what the Tigers need to end their finals drought.

LEFT, RIGHT OR CENTER? Where Will NRL Teams Focus Their Attack in 2020?

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The Leilua Reality

Leilua's reputation around the NRL precedes him. 

From when the rumours began swirling to when he eventually signed with the Tigers, and beyond, the Leilua classics were repeated ad nauseam.

"He's lazy."

"He averages 2-3 penalties a game. Ill-disciplined."

Let's tackle the "lazy" claim first.

With Latrell Mitchell now a fullback, Joseph Manu is widely considered the best centre in the game. He's explosive, possesses a powerful fend, and is always prepared to put his hand up to get involved in the action. "Lazy" and "Joseph Manu" have never been said in the same sentence.

So, how do the 2019 numbers of the Kiwi international match up against Lazy Leluia's?

2019
Runs Per Game
Running Metres Per Game
Joseph Manu
11 runs
102 metres
Joey Leilua
11 runs
101 metres

Not enough of a sample size?

Go back a few more years.

Joey Leilua
Runs Per Game
Running Metres Per Game
2018
11 runs
104 metres
2017
12 runs
105 metres
2016
14 runs
130 metres
2015
11 runs
107 metres

Leilua's involvement in attack is far from sluggish. Especially when you consider 2019's Dally M Centre of the Year averaged three fewer runs and 16 fewer running metres per game. He's a big unit the Raiders regularly used in attack, and he is no stranger to a tough carry when his team needs it.

Lazy, Leilua is not.

How about that discipline?

Now, nobody is silly enough to argue for Joey as a saint. He has some brain farts in him and they often come at the worst time. An emotional character who can get caught up in the moment, a little bit of red mist can result in Leilua getting on the wrong side of the referee. However, he's not your typical penalty-heavy player, and the "2-3 per game" is way off the mark.

Looking back on the last five seasons, he doesn't even average one. Nor has he ever led his team in penalties in a season.

Year
Games Played
Penalties Conceded
Average Per Game
2019
12
8
0.6
2018
24
17
0.7
2017
24
20
0.8
2016
25
13
0.5
2015
19
10
0.5

Leilua is an enigma.

You either love the emotion behind his spray directed at the Bulldogs after tearing their hearts out in the last minute, or, it's a despicable act and one that shouldn't be seen on a footy field.

The lasting memory of Joey's 2019 season is either the no-look flick pass to beat the Storm in Week 1 of the Finals in Melbourne, or, the delayed and subsequently forward pass to Jordan Rapana in the Grand Final.

Once you do wrap your head around Leilua and his ups and downs, you end up on one side or the other.

Despite not being quite as rocky as some think, Leilua is a rocks and diamonds player.

He admitted as much when speaking with Christian Nicolussi of the  Sydney Morning Herald recently:

"Maybe in 2017 and 2018 it was rocks and diamonds, but then I got hurt in 2019, so you can't judge me on that. My first seven games last year I considered myself one of the best centres in the game. It took me a while to get back."

To get a Dally M Centre of the Year season in 2016 and 2018, you've got to accept the 20 penalties and 24 errors Leilua made in 2017.

It's the sort of player he is, and the Wests Tigers are better for it.

Leilua's Wild West

The Wests Tigers have put pen to some shocking bits of paper over the years. They've overpaid to attract declining players to the club while failing to keep some of the younger talent happy enough to hang around.

But Leilua is a step in the right direction for the club.

He's 28-years old and in the prime of his career, his reported contract looks to be good value, and he fits a gap in the side that desperately needed filling.

The Tigers attack was nothing more or less than average last season. Their 19.8 points per game ranked 9th in the NRL and only just above the 19.5 league average.

Wests managed to score more than 20 points against a Top 8 side only twice in 2019. Once in a 24-22 loss to the Storm, and another in a 22-16 win over the Broncos, who while in the Top 8, ranked 13th in defence conceding 21.9 points per game. 

Sitting behind the posts at a Tigers game has been like attending a tennis match for too long. Side to side like a long rally, Wests spent so much of 2019 searching for points that never came. It didn't take more than five minutes scouring Wests footage to find the sort of drifting shift that sums up the attack so well.

Leilua doesn't address all of Wests needs, although, the signing of Adam Doueihi and the possible loan of Harry Grant complete the list. But Leilua is the guy that moves the needle for the Tigers. He's the strike weapon out wide Wests need to score a try they'd have otherwise missed out on in Round 9 to make the leap from 9th to 8th by Round 25.

His combination with his brother, Luciano, and Benji Marshall is a footy fans dream. The Tigers are must-watch tv if the trio plays on the right side together.

Marshall played brilliant football in 2019. Turning back the clock, he managed 17 try assists and 14 line break assists in 19 games. Now presented with the mind-boggling combination of size, footwork, power and ball-playing of the Leilua brother's outside him, the Tigers right side attack could become one of the most potent in the competition.

Wests finally have their game-breaker.

Don't be mistaken, Joey will, at some point, break the wrong hearts at Leichhardt, Campbelltown, or wherever else Wests Tigers are calling home in 2020.

There is a good chance he's worth it in the end, though.

In Leilua, the Tigers have an elite centre, a match-winner, and potentially the missing piece to ending their finals drought.

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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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