Having lost eight kilograms and his penchant for shoulder charges in the pre-season, Canberra’s Joey Leilua is eyeing a fresh start to his NRL career in 2016.
Injury and suspensions limited the centre to just six games last year following his mid-season switch from Newcastle.
But with coach Ricky Stuart in his ear, Leilua wanted to make amends and has put in the hard yards since October.
“I think this is the start for me,” Leilua said on Monday.
“Last year, I came during the season and I probably did a couple of bad things for the club with my shoulder charges. I wasn’t playing much footy for them.
“But this year I feel great.”
It’s in stark contrast to the start of 2015, when ex-Knights coach Rick Stone refused to guarantee Leilua a round-one spot after he turned up to pre-season training out of condition.
That’s what ultimately led to him leaving the club and signing with the Raiders.
Aside from improving his diet and getting leaner over the summer, Leilua said he has been working on his tackling technique.
The 24-year-old copped two bans for shoulder charges in 2015 and is intent not to repeat this season.
“It’s been tough,” he said.
“(But) the body feels like I can do a lot more things with it; I just feel happy that I’m here.
“I want to take my game to another level.”
An obviously trimmed-down Leilua set up a try and scored one of his own in the Raiders’ 34-38 trial win over his former club Newcastle earlier this month.
He said that was just the first of many “baby steps” he hoped to take in coming months, with the support of Stuart – both on and off the field.
“He’s helped me a lot,” added Leilua.
“He’s told me to keep my head down, work hard, and if you keep doing the things you’re doing at training it’ll come up on the field.”
The Raiders host Penrith for round one on Saturday.