In another life, Leilani Latu would’ve been just another big dog.
But ahead of Sunday’s NRL elimination final against Canterbury, Latu will be Penrith’s biggest cat in a Moore Park cage full of the baddest canines out of Belmore.
Ahead of his first game against his former club, the Panthers prop credits the Bulldogs for a breakout season that finally showed why many rated Latu a better prospect than David Klemmer.
So impressive has the 23-year-old been at the foot of the mountains this year that he became just one of five players across the league to be handed a contract until the end of the 2020 season.
And he owes most of it down to his old coaches.
“Everything that you see me do for Penrith, I’ve learnt from the Bulldogs, especially from Jim Dymock as well, being a former ball-playing forward,” Latu told AAP.
“It’s just a credit to the program and the system they’re doing over there.
“There’s some big bodies over there but with the help of (assistant coach) Kelly Egan and Dymock that are training them over there, they’re very skilful as well.”
Latu came through a stacked Bulldogs juniors side that a string of NRL graduates, including current Bulldogs Klemmer and halfback Moses Mbye.
“We were all part of the originals from Harold Matts and SG Ball,” Latu said.
However a series of injuries, including major foot, knee and shoulder surgery, stunted Latu’s development and it appeared as though he would be another prospect to fall through the cracks.
He played no more than a dozen games in the under-20s, and remembered thinking his career was over before it began when he was told he was free to sniff offers outside the kennel at Canterbury.
“At the time, no clubs were interested in me,” he recalled.
“But then I got a phone call from Phil Gould one day and he just said I see the potential in you and I want you to come play for us.”