There was a time when Joey Leilua thought experience was a myth.
But the Canberra star will be drawing on all the lessons learned over his career as he leads the Raiders as its most experienced player in Saturday’s NRL semi-final against Penrith.
Of the 17 men named by coach Ricky Stuart on Tuesday, Leilua is the only member to have an NRL grand final under his belt – the 2010 heartbreaking loss to St George Illawarra.
And he freely admits he was a cocky little Sydney Rooster all those years ago.
“I never believed in experience back then,” he said.
“I was of the mindset of, ‘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 has allowed me to give it my best shot every week.”
Now considered a veteran at 24 years of age, Leilua finds himself shelling out advice to many of his younger teammates who have rode a wave of confidence and form into September.
And he’s got plenty of know-how to pass on, picked up across a career that has included getting arrested for beaching an apprehended violence order and spitting on his then-partner.
He has been to the finals once since his rookie campaign in 2010.
“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,” he said.
“I usually let my actions do the talking because I’m not a speaking man. But every time I do – the boys have a laugh because I never speak – I tell them to never let their teammate down.”
Leilua credited his career-best form to Stuart, who enticed the former Newcastle star to the nation’s capital in a bid to realise the potential that had him pencilled in as Origin material.
Leilua admits he’s the happiest he’s been throughout his career.
“For sure. Off the field, my missus has been my rock. She makes me happy and we have a baby on the way so I’m pretty excited for that,” he said.
“Stability was a huge part of me moving here. Sticky told me if I get my life right off the field, my form will be great on it.”