Harley was one of many that was lucky enough to attend the Panthers’ recent NRL game in Christchurch.
But that is where his luck ends it would seem for now.
Harley is no longer able to play the sport he loves, having suffered a career-ending injury in a tackle that went wrong.
Cue Leilani Latu.
Latu was signing autographs for the Christchurch locals after the Panthers win, when he met Harley, whose story inspired the prop to dedicate his first NRL try, scored a week later in the Panthers’ loss to Titans.
“It was for this brother back home in Christchurch,” Latu explained.
“After the game Dallin and I were signing autographs when I happened to meet this guy called Harley and it was unfortunate when he said “my career’s over” after he got injured in a tackle playing rugby league.
“I said to him to make sure you watch the game next week when we play the Titans and I’ll have you on my wrist.
“I hope he was watching.
“But more importantly I just hope he gets better.”
It’s been quite a season for Latu, having played (and scored) in his first Indigenous All-Stars game before representing City Origin last month in Tamworth and was excited by the thought of having scored that first NRL try in his 15th game.
“Getting my first NRL meat pie was good,” Latu said.
“Props don’t get many so we do get one we cherish it.
“I’ll remember this day, the day I scored my first NRL try against the Titans.”
His first ever NRL try is just reward for a player whose fledging yet blossoming NRL career would be far more advanced if it wasn’t for the plethora of injuries that struck the
Tongan prop firstly at the Bulldogs, where he was rated at least the equal of NSW Blues prop David Klemmer, before his transition to Penrith was also initially hampered by further injury.
At one point, Latu was playing Ron Massey Cup for Windsor but his determination and courage not only saw him fight back to help win Penrith a NSW Cup title in 2014, but
arguably became their best player in 2015, culminating in his belated NRL debut against the Rabbitohs late in the season.
The representative forward is arguably Penrith’s most improved NRL player in a season where Sam McKendry, Jeremy Latimore, Tyrone Peachey, James Fisher-Harris and
Elijah Taylor (since departed) have all at some point been dropped back to the Intrust Super Premiership by coach Anthony Griffin.
Latu has especially been a revelation in attack, having produced four line break assists and providing two try assists (both for Bryce Cartwright).
But despite all the superlatives regarding his 2016 form to date, there is no doubt that the deeply spiritual prop forward’s chance meeting with Harley and hearing his story has had a profound effect, reinforcing to Latu just how grateful he is to finally have the chance to being a NRL player.
“Being an NRL player, I’m grateful for the opportunity.” Latu declared.
“I always take it each day and week at a time.
“If I get to play, I play and I give it my best.
“I’m always thankful not only to the coach but I’m always grateful that God has paved the way for me and that he’s put me here on this platform to do his work.
“I don’t take anything for granted, certainly not this NRL career.”