Unsung Leutele the 'cog' in Sharks Premiership wheel
Ricky Leutele scored tries, set a few up as well, while doing an extremely competent job in shutting down some of the best backlines in all of the NRL in 2016.
With Sosaia Feki by his side Leutele did the job on the much talked about Austin-Leilua-Rapana combination in week one of the finals, kept Johnathan Thurston and his cohorts quiet in the Grand Final qualifier, then capably looked after Queensland and Australian centre Will Chambers in the premiership decider against the Storm.
But for all that went on before, the most important, most significant tackle of his career was on Marika Koroibete in the frantic final seconds of the win over the Storm.
It was a defining moment for a player who has worked diligently to turn himself into a quality first grader and one with a bright future still ahead of him.
Leutele crossed the stripe for six tries in 19 games this year and created plenty more for wing partner Feki, with his late footwork providing a challenge for those who opposed him and putting on notice anybody who may have previously underestimated him.
Unsung in some quarters, but not in the Sutherland Shire, Leutele was an important cog in the premiership winning ‘wheel’ at the Sharks this year.
Quietly spoken and not one to stand out off the field, Leutele epitomised the tradesman on it.
One to get the job done without a minimum of fuss or fanfare, the further the 2016 season progressed the more important a role he played in the Sharks premiership campaign.
All season it was a two-man battle for the left centre position and when Leutele’s ‘opponent’ of sorts was Kiwi international Gerard Beale, his former junior league and schoolboy friend at that, it was a difficult task.
Something was missing when Canberra brought an end to the Sharks 16-man unbeaten streak, Leutele was also sidelined with injury when the Dragons caused an upset a week later, then significantly he was absent again when the Storm beat the Sharks to claim the minor premiership in round 26.
Leutele returned for week one of the finals, was there again when the Sharks beat the Cowboys and deservedly won a place in the run on side for the Grand Final.
If anyone hadn’t taken notice before the 80th minute of the premiership decider, they know who Ricky Leutele is now.
He scored a handful of important tries in 2016, delivered numerous try assists for his outside wing partner Feki, but for Leutele there was one moment, one which will be replayed and relived for many years to come by the Sharks players and coaches who were involved and the fans who witnessed it.
It was a frantic finale to the 2016 Grand Final, with the Storm throwing the ball from side to side and the Sharks scrambling to shut them down.
Just one tackle had to me made, any tackle would do as time expired.
Koroibete eventually got the ball, charged at the line from 15 metres out but was brought down in the tackle that ended it. Leutele managed to get hold onto the Storm flyer, dragged him to the ground and it was over.
The Sharks were the premiers and Leutele will forever be remembered.
Persistence and hard work, coupled with a good dose of talent, goes a long way, with Leutele a perfect example.
"I've always been second choice or third choice, but I just kept working on myself to be better and it's paid off. Flanno has got faith in me in what I can do and it's been pretty good."
"It's a pretty cool feeling. I've seen a lot in the last seven seasons since I've debuted, the club has come a long way from when I first started."
So too has Ricky Leutele.
Year in Review: Ricky Leutele*
Games played 2016 - 20
Line Breaks: 8
Tackle Busts: 51
Average run metres: 93.7
* Statistics via www.foxsports.com.au/nrl and Big League Magazine