Straight-talking NRL star Joey Leilua won’t change his ways at ambitious Featherstone Rovers

NRL star Joey Leilua wants to have the same impact for Featherstone Rovers as England stars Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead did for his Canberra Raiders - but he will still not change his outspoken ways.

The explosive Samoa centre arrived in the UK this week to take up his deal with the Championship club and hopes to debut in Monday night’s televised opener at York City Knights.

That will be a far cry from what Leilua is used to given he has played more than 200 NRL games and featured in two Grand Finals, including the 2019 decider with Canberra.

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However, controversy has often followed him around and the 30-year-old is not afraid to speak his mind, something which has seen him alienate many Down Under.

Leilua had a public spat with Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire last year after being axed from their side but he is looking for a fresh start in Yorkshire as Brian McDermott’s big-spending Featherstone seek to finally earn promotion to Super League.

“I’m a person who when I see something I say it,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“I don’t shy away from it. That’s how I’ve always been. I’ve done it throughout my whole career.

“What you see is what you get from me. It is a bit cut-throat in the NRL. You can’t say something bad as it just comes back on you. It hurts your name.

Happy Days: Featherstone Rovers new signing Joey Leulia. Picture: Featherstone Rovers RLFC

“But I just came over here to brush all that aside. I just want to play good footy and enjoy it again.

“And it wasn’t a big decision to come, to be honest. My missus was very supportive. After what happened in the NRL, she wanted me to get away from there and start something fresh.

“I spoke to the coach and heard what his ambitions were and he said it was to take this club to Super League.

“When he said that, it was kind of a challenge for me and I like challenges. He told me to come here and make a difference. And that’s why I am here.”

No holding back: Featherstone Rovers' former NRL star Joey Leilua. Picture: Featherstone Rovers RLFC

After two frustrating seasons with Wests, Leilua will be hoping to recapture the career best form that he showed with Canberra.

He was part of the great Raiders side, led by ex-Hull KR hooker Hodgson and former Bradford Bulls second-row Whitehead, that reached a first Grand Final in 25 years in 2019.

“I loved it there; that was a great club,” said Leilua, who scored 39 tries in 91 games for the Green Machine and was twice named NRL centre of the year.

“Those boys who came into the team were great additions and added so much leadership.

Big name: Featherstone Rovers have pulled off a coup by signing NRL star Joey Leilua. Picture: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

“It was good shopping to see so many Pommies go over there and have so much leadership. It was great for the team.

Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead led the side in the way we wanted to play. Elliot’s captain now and you see the influence he has. That’s why they’ve been in the play-offs most times.

“I definitely want to have the same impact here as they did for Canberra.”

Leilua started a boxing career after things started to go wrong at Wests last year and he defeated former England forward Chris Heighington in his debut bout last December.

Looking back at why he did lose form on the field, he said: “It was difficult as Covid hit, and then something else, and it all just piled on top.

“I didn’t really get back to form. Pre-season was shorter and I didn’t really get much out of it and then boxing came.

Promotion target: Rovers head coach Brian McDermott is one of the most successful in rugby league history. Picture: Tony Johnson

“I got back to getting fit again and back to running and feeling good. Now I’m looking forward to getting going with Fev.

“It’s beautiful here. It’s got a lot of history, the people have been really welcoming and I’ve enjoyed it. I’m very excited for the season ahead and can’t wait to get out there and play.

“The coach told me about a great team going forward and he wants to get them in the Super League. That’s the plan and I want to make a difference.”

With Featherstone also forking out for former Melbourne Storm scrum-half Ryley Jacks this week, it is little wonder they are many peoples’ favourites to come out on top in 2022.

Fans will hopefully get their first sight of Leilua on Monday. Either way, he promises to be box office.

Meanwhile, the club has been given a major boost ahead of Monday’s kick-off with half-back Dane Chisholm successfully apealing and overturning an eight-game ban meaning he is free to face York.

Star signing: Ryley Jacks, another NRL star, has moved to Featherstone. Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images