DRAGONS wrecking ball Luciano Leilua hasn’t enjoyed the off-season – he’s dispensed with it altogether to ensure he carries his strong late-season form into 2019.
The 22-year-old played the final 12 straight games for the Dragons in a barnstorming finish to the year where he emerged as a major attacking spark on the left edge.
It was a glimpse of the former NYC star’s potential that looked like it could go unrealised after he spent the entire 2017 season in reserve grade.
It was comfort zone he admittedly slipped into after debuting in the NRL at 20 in 2016.
“In 2017, to not play at all that year really woke me up,” Leilua said.
“I learned you’re not just going to play every single game, you’ve got to work hard.
“That’s what I lacked in that preseason heading into 2017. I didn’t work as hard as the other boys and I just thought it was all going to come.
“I switched that mindset last year and I was pretty happy with it.”
They’re lessons he continued to put into practice over the break, sticking to a strict training and diet regimen to ensure he didn’t start preparations for next season from behind the 8-ball.
“This year I feel I’m more mature and I just know how my body works,” he said.
“During the off-season I spent a lot of time making sure I didn’t put on heaps of weight or come in lacking too much fitness.
“That was one of the main things talking with my personal trainer that I didn’t want to lose fitness and we worked hard to maintain it.
“Obviously when you come back [into preseason] it’s a different level, you don’t know what to expect, but I’ve got the first two weeks out and I’m feeling good.
“I feel like my fitness level is pretty much at where I left off so I’m pretty happy.”
The bigger engine certainly showed at the back-end of 2018, scoring five tries in the final 12 games after being drip-fed NRL action earlier in the year.
“During preseason I was a bit worried I might not get another [NRL] game but when Mary picked me for round one I was stoked,” he said.
“It was good he believed in me that I could start [later in the year] and it was a good few games we had there. You can't be comfortable in the NRL but I’d say I felt confident by the end.”
It proved a breakout NRL stint but he faces a battle to reclaim that spot on the edge in 2019 should NSW Origin duo Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell stay fit.
It might be frustrating for some but Leilua, who last year re-signed with the club until the end of 2020, is more than happy to serve an apprenticeship under the pair.
“It creates a lot of competitiveness and everyone loves that,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to learn off great players. I remember watching Tariq when I was younger and he was at the Cowboys and he was a monster.
“He’s always chipping away with little bits of advice to help me be better. He’s an Origin player so I just feed off him as much as I can.”