Leading into Saturday’s massive trip to Bathurst to take on Penrith, the Canberra Raiders have been boosted immeasurably by the news electrifying centre Joey Leilua has extended his stay at the club until the end of 2020.
The Raiders announced Leilua’s three-year contract extension on Wednesday morning and it comes just a few weeks after Orange-born fullback Jack Wighton did the same.
Once a club known for leaking talent, particularly their own juniors, the Raiders are slowly building a culture of loyalty, retaining a huge portion of their squad beyond this year and the next.
Wighton was stoked to see his fellow outside man ink a new deal and said with Leilua’s mind off his contract negotiations, there’s every chance he could once again find his unbelievable form of 2016 – starting against Penrith at Carrington Park on Saturday.
“He’s one of the most damaging centres in the competition and I think for Joey it’s going to put his mind at rest so he can focus on football and what’s ahead of him [at Canberra],” Wighton said.
“The way the game works we’re always going to lose some players here and there but it’s great news Joey has re-signed, from my point of view it’s a big step for the club.
“We’ve got a good bunch of boys together and we’re not far away from doing something good, I think we can all see that.
“The grass is not always greener on the other side either, I think a few boys have learned that … and we all love it in Canberra.
“It’s always good to have a bit of stability, the Raiders have always sort of been known for [developing] good players and losing them but at the moment we’ve got a heap of good players here and we’re starting to keep them, starting to build something.”
Leilua, who moved from Newcastle to Canberra mid-2015 after starting his career with the Sydney Roosters, is over the moon to have solidified his future at the club.
He wants to give back to the club which gave him that chance a couple of years ago.
“It’s a family-oriented place in Canberra … and I’ve grown to become a better man. I want to give back,” he said.
“The culture here around the playing group and staff is fantastic and I love it here in the Canberra community.
“I love the place here and what it has done for me on and off the field so I jumped at the chance to re-sign.”
Leilua is the first to admit his form, and that of his side, hasn’t mirrored the highs of 2016 – yet.
Touted as a pre-season title favourite, the Raiders sit ninth. The green machine is two points out of the eight, equal with Penrith.
“You can always get better,” Leilua said.
“The thing with our team is that even though we’re not going great at the moment … we’ve got a lot of potential.”
Orange Hawks play Bathurst Panthers as a curtain-raiser on Saturday.
That games kicks off at 2.30pm before the main, NRL game at 5.30pm.