Panthers prop Moses Leota won’t make a call on his World Cup future until later this year, but one thing is certain – he has a huge decision on his hands.
Eligible to represent both Samoa and New Zealand, the 27-year-old local junior is expected to be in high demand for both nations when the 2022 Rugby League World Cup kicks off this November.
Will Leota join several of his Panthers teammates playing for rising nation Samoa or will he link back up with the Kiwis, who he made his long-awaited debut with just last month?
Speaking with the Weekender after eating breakfast at Emu Hall on his 27th birthday earlier today, Leota said representing New Zealand for the first time recently was a special moment for both he and his family.
“We haven’t played back in New Zealand since 2019 and I’ve got heaps of family there, including my Nana,” the Auckland product said.
“That was the main reason I wanted to play for the Kiwis because I could go over there and play a game in front of them.
“My Nana was super happy; she was there at the game cheering me on. She’s proud of my achievements and how far I’ve come. She’s my number one supporter.”
Whichever country Leota chooses to represent later this year, that team will get a massive boost. After returning from a fractured shoulder back in May, Leota has been in outstanding form ever since and has played a pivotal role in Penrith’s near undefeated season so far.
While the understrength Panthers got a late scare against the last-placed Wests Tigers last weekend, they managed to do enough in the end to record their 16th victory of the year.
“I felt the boys that came up to first grade did a really good job and, even though there were some errors, we got the win which was the main thing,” Leota said.
Down 16-12 with six minutes remaining, inspirational prop James Fisher-Harris scored the match winner under the posts in his 150th game. It was a real couch jumping moment for Panthers supporters back home as well as his teammates, including Leota, on the sideline.
“Bro, I was super proud of Fish,” Leota said.
“We were just all sweating on the sideline because they were up, and he came in clutch and scored that last try – and on his big milestone too.
“That’s the type of player he is. He just shows up every week and he shows up for the boys.”
Best mates off the field as well as on, Leota was full of praise for Penrith’s engine room leader, who appears to be getting better with each and every game he plays.
“I’ve always looked up to him, his work rate is out of this world,” Leota said of Fisher-Harris.
“He looks up to Kobe [Bryant] and he pretty much has the same mindset as he did. I’m just trying to get some little gems out of him to help my game.”
This Saturday evening at a packed out BlueBet Stadium, Penrith will be aiming for their ninth straight win. They’ll take on a Cronulla Sharks side who have been one of the surprise packets of the season – sitting in third position with less than two months before Finals.
Boasting an experienced forward pack and an explosive backline, Leota and his teammates know they’ll have to be at their very best to keep their winning run alive.
“The Sharks have really shown up this year – what are they third on the ladder?” Leota asked.
“We really need to be on our game this week and it’ll be good to have the Blues State of Origin boys back just in time for the big game too.”
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 a decade.