Late last year when rookie Panthers forward Moses Leota was putting together his player profile for the club’s official website, he listed Origin star James Tamou as one of his rugby league idols.
When he filled out that form all those months ago, never did he imagine that the premiership-winning North Queensland prop – that he looks up to week in, week out – would very soon be his teammate.
Last Thursday night when it was announced that Tamou would leave the Cowboys and relocate to the Panthers in 2017, Leota thought all his Christmas’s had come at once.
Not only did he just make his NRL debut with the Panthers days prior but he also found out the news that the player he admires most in rugby league, will next year be running out alongside him.
Speaking with the Weekender, Leota said he was pumped that he’ll soon get to learn more about his craft from one of the game’s premier front rowers.
“James is just a big guy who always gets his team on the front foot, plus he’s a front rower and that’s why I look up to him,” he said.
“I can’t wait to play with him next year and learn everything I can.”
At just 20-years-old, Leota is the latest in a long list of local juniors to make their Penrith Panthers NRL debut.
The St Marys product said his short but sweet performance against the Manly Sea Eagles in Round 14 will be a moment he’ll treasure forever.
“I got goosebumps,” Leota admitted.
“As soon as I had my first touch it felt awesome. It was amazing to be out there with boys who I watched growing up.
“The game felt a lot faster and was way more physical, but I reckon I went alright.”
While Leota was only privy to just 10 minutes of action, his time on the Brookvale Oval pitch had plenty of impact, with the youngster running more metres in 10 minutes (55m) than fellow prop Leilani Latu did in 53 minutes (44m).
“I didn’t get much minutes but I felt like I went out there, did the job, and got the boys on the front foot,” Leota said.
“If Hook gives me more minutes this week I feel like I’ll really be able to progress my game and become a better player.”
This Friday night will be no easier task for Leota, who will go up against superstar Sam Burgess and the rest of South Sydney’s dominant forward pack at Pepper Stadium.
While the Bunnies have struggled to fire so far this year, Leota is wary of the ability they have up front.
“It will be exciting to go up against the Souths pack this week, they are big and strong,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leota revealed to the Weekender he’ll remain at Penrith in 2017, so a chance to play with his idol in Tamou is well and truly on the cards.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.