Panthers prop, Moses Leota is hoping to celebrate his recent two-year deal with the club by securing a spot in the first grade squad in 2017.
Making his NRL debut against Manly last season has according to Leota, given him the confidence that he can handle himself in the top grade.
But the 2015 Holden Cup Player of the Year also says the fight for the front row spots is more intense than ever, despite the departures of Jeremy Latimore, Suaia Matagi and Chris Grevsmuhl, the latter two whom Leota credits for getting him NRL ready.
“As a young kid I aspired to play first grade and to finally get a crack and make my debut last year was a thrill,” Leota said.
“It gives me a lot of confidence that if I do get a chance this year I think I can do a fantastic job for the team and I’ll give it my all.
“Losing Chris was sad. He’s a good bloke and he was a massive help for me and for my game.
“Suaia was a big help as well. He taught me the ropes and showed how to survive at this level and it’s a big loss for me (not having him here) but in the long run it will make me stronger too.
“And I need to be stronger as there’s a lot of front rowers here at the moment.
“All I can do right now is train hard and hope that hard work pays off.”
With James Tamou and Tim Browne added to the roster, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Sam McKendry return from season-ending injuries, it would be easy to assume that Leota would be put off by such competition.
But rather than being deterred, the 21-year old prop, is instead excited by the prospect of playing alongside the likes of Tamou.
“It’s unreal having James here,” Leota declared.
“He’s a big inspiration as I looked up to him as a young kid and it’s given me a big boost for the season ahead confidence-wise.”
Despite the challenges that lay ahead for Leota to add to his four NRL appearances to date, the St Marys junior isn’t adverse to hard work and sacrifice, having made the ultimate decision to leave his family in New Zealand as a 13-year old to live in Australia.
And it’s his family that Leota credits for giving him the inspiration to persevere and overcome the hurdles he encountered in the journey to becoming a NRL footballer, especially the formative years where he juggled football and work commitments.
“My family is everything to me and they give me the support that I need in order to move forward in life,” Moses exclaimed.
“They’re my motivation. They’ve played a big part of what I’ve done.
“The journey has been a massive climb for me.
“I started off as a brickie’s labourer and did that for three years.
“Juggling the two, footy and work, it was hard for me.
“But I got through it and it paid off in the end when I got to make my (NRL) debut.”