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Wests Tigers recruit Luciano Leilua spent Christmas Day in hospital
Luciano Leilua is getting used to black and orange after a health scare saw the Wests Tigers’ new backrower spend six days in hospital – and that’s not the only change his body has undergone.
Michael Carayannis, The Daily Telegrap
January 16, 2020 4:16pm
Luciano Leilua spent Christmas Day in hospital with the Wests Tigers recruit battling a severe infection. Leilua was hospital bound for six days before finally being released on Boxing Day after being diagnosed with shingles.
Initially it was feared the 23-year-old had meningitis as he battled severe sweats, high temperatures and chills.
Leilua began to feel unwell on the second last day of the Tigers pre-season and it wasn’t until he was urged by his partner to take himself to St George Hospital he learnt the full extent of his ailment.
“I didn’t think much of it at the last day of training when we were training at the beach,” Leilua said.
“But I got really crook on the Saturday and checked myself into hospital after training. It was painful. I don’t know how I got the infection. I was struggling at hospital.
“I was really scared. They thought it was meningitis. That got me worried. My partner told me ‘That’s it’ and I sent me to hospital.
“I was showing some really bad symptoms. I wouldn’t have gone to hospital if it wasn’t for her. Christmas was OK. I had my family there. My partner’s family and my partner came. It was a different type of Christmas.”
He was told not to do any physical activity for a week before joining his teammates in Brisbane last week as part of a training camp.
Leilua will finish his dose of antibiotics this week. The hospital visit aside, Leilua said he has thrived since making the switch from St George Illawarra at the end of last year.
He still had a year to run on his contract with the Dragons but the St George junior felt his time had come to an end at the club.
“I didn’t see a future for myself at the Dragons. It didn’t work out for me and where I wanted to go in my career,” Leilua said. “I could just feel a little bit of tension that maybe it was not a good idea for me to stay there. I wanted to find somewhere else where I was wanted.
“(The tension was) just around the whole club just where I wanted to go in my career. I thought I might’ve got too comfortable. Growing up as a Dragons junior, maybe I got too comfortable. I got pushed around in what position I had to play. I want to be one position and nail that.”
Leilua was instantly impressed when he met with Tigers coach Michael Maguire before inking a three year deal with the club. He knew Maguire’s reputation as a hard taskmaster but felt that’s what he needed to take his game to another level.
“When I first met him, I was pretty scared,” Leilua said. “I heard a few stories how hard he was but that’s what I wanted. It’s the best move for me. I’m excited for the club and for me.
“I wanted to come and learn off Madge (Maguire) especially defensively. My attack will come off the back of that.
“At first I couldn’t picture myself being in the Tigers uniform. Until we did the team headshots on Monday and the black and orange looks pretty good on me.”
Leilua has stripped four kilograms off his big frame and the ball-playing back-rower has identified a starting spot on the right edge. He has reunited with Benji Marshall on that side of the field after playing alongside Marshall when Leilua made his top grade debut for the Dragons in 2016.
“We have a lot of good back-rowers,” Leilua said. “Lots of good healthy competition. That’s what I love about coming to training every day. Everyone loves coming here and competing. No one is bad mouthing each other, it’s all good.
“Madge is pushing me to be that consistent 80 minute player.”
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Wests Tigers remain hopeful that teenage prop Stefano Utoikamanu will gain a release from Parramatta to join the club this season.
The Tigers have signed Utoikamanu on a three-year deal from 2021, but they want to secure his services for 2020.
Parramatta knocked back their release request in November, opting to offer the Australian schoolboys and NSW under-20s star a top-30 NRL position for this season.
The Eels feel the 19-year-old, who has been compared to Brisbane and NSW enforcer Payne Haas, will enhance their chances of success.
Despite the Eels’ stance, it’s understood that Utoikamanu wants to leave and he doesn’t want to make his NRL debut for Parramatta.
The Tigers will continue to negotiate with Eels officials in the hope they can obtain a release, which they believe is in the rising talent’s best interests.
The joint-venture club has the cap space for Utoikamanu, plus opportunities in the front-row for the former Westfield Sports High student to thrive.
The Tigers desperately want an enforcer following the retirement of former New Zealand international Ben Matulino.
Utoikamanu is the perfect fit having starred on the junior representative stage over several seasons.
He excelled during the NSW under-20s win over Queensland last year with almost 150 metres and 11 hit-ups while he scored the matchwinning try and collected the man-of-the-match honours for the Blues under-18s in 2018.
Utoikamanu has been a standout at Parramatta pre-season training.
He has a huge fitness base for a big man while he is incredibly strong weighing in at 115kg.
Utoikamanu appears ready for the step up after impressing in the Canterbury Cup ranks with Wentworthville last season.
He played 17 games for the Magpies, scoring two tries and running for 1602 metres and 604.8 post-contact metres.
Tigers officials are excited about the potential of Utoikamanu teaming up with a player like Zane Musgrove in the front-row.
Musgrove has been a standout at Tigers training this summer after having his contract conditionally approved by the NRL.
The former South Sydney forward has spent 12 months on the sideline following legal charges from an incident on the dance floor of the Coogee Bay Hotel.
However, after having two of the three charges – including aggravated indecent assault and common assault – dropped last in October, the NRL has given the green light for Musgrove to join the Tigers’ squad for pre-season training.
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that player swap is Nofo for JAC he is all we have as a bargaining tool
No thanks nofo is the heart and sole of the club…I’d rather come 9th with nof then 7th with the fox…it’s called ethics…our time will come we really have only changed things around since 2018 imo board and club wise