Titan’s sweet sacrifice in search of more minutes
TURKISH Delight and Pringles sour cream-flavoured chips.
These are the guilty pleasures Leilani Latu has sacrificed in order to be a starting front-rower at the Gold Coast Titans capable of playing big minutes.
Gold Coast's depth in the middle of the field has been tested even before the competition is set to commence with Jarrod Wallace and Keegan Hipgrave unavailable for round one due to suspension and Morgan Boyle (shoulder), Jack Stockwell (shoulder) and Jai Arrow (ribs) in doubt due to injury.
It will thrust Latu into the starting position he coveted after making the move from Penrith and the 2016 City Origin representative is determined to make the position his own.
But more than simply elevate himself from an impact player off the bench to a starting prop, Latu wants to raise his average minutes from just under 36 last season to up around 50 at the Titans, and in order to do that some sacrifices had to be made.
"'Knowlesy' (Titans head of performance Hayden Knowles) spoke to me about the little one per centers that I had to do," Latu said.
"The main issue for me was diet. I can get a bit complacent with my diet here and there so I've taken that on board really well, making a lot of inroads with our nutritionist.
"I like Turkish Delight. Not many people like it but it's one of my little treats that I like to have.
"Usually it's any time (that I like to eat it), which is really bad.
"It's been really good actually, the only time I've had something was I had a treat after the game last week.
"I want to push at least 50 (minutes) out. I know it will be hard at first but that's what I've come up here for.
"I want to play NRL and I'm not taking a back step.
"That's the challenge that 'Brenno' (Titans coach Garth Brennan) has set in front of me and I've got all the resources here to achieve that."
By altering his diet and requesting extra boxing sessions and time in the altitude chamber in pre-season training Latu has shed four kilograms to now sit at 112 heading into Saturday's final trial against the Warriors on the Sunshine Coast.
Also a newcomer to the club, Hayden Knowles outlined the physical work the 25-year-old has had to put in in his quest for more minutes but said ultimately it was up to him whether he committed himself to the task at hand.
"He knows what to do and we make sure we've got people there to help him but the challenge is that he has to want to do it," Knowles said.
"For him to want to cut down his Turkish Delights, that's his own discipline.
"For him to want to play 50 (minutes) he'll have to be at that high level of workrate otherwise Garth won't be giving him those minutes.
"The ball is in his court to show that he really wants to do that otherwise they're just words.
"We're challenging him to show us a bit of action and he's done that.
"Scales don't lie and training sessions don't lie.
"He will get better as the year goes on. I'm not saying he's at his peak of fitness but I am happy that he's made those sacrifices."
In order to increase his capacity for work, Knowles explained the territory Latu would have covered coming off the bench for the Panthers last year and what he has been asked to do during pre-season.
An elite-level front-rower playing 30 minutes will cover 100 metres per minute for a total of three kilometres during a game; Latu has been training at game speed and covering eight kilometres in the extended sessions, effectively an 80-minute hitout at high intensity.
"He's been preparing at a faster game speed for longer distances in our training sessions with more involvements than he would have to do on game day," Knowles said.
"We're hoping that the game time is actually easier for him than pre-season.
"Some front-rowers take longer to become that player whereas others have a great engine and a really great background in fitness where they can handle it.
"I remember when Tim Mannah came on the scene (at the Eels), when he first started in first grade, he'd blow out after 10, 11 or 12 minutes. Whereas if you went for a run around the park he was the fittest person at training.
"He was one of the fittest players in the club back then but it just takes time in the front row to work out how to get through the game.
"Maybe he's ready. He definitely knows how to bring impact to a team but he's trained for it and if Garth picks him there we're all going to be believing in him."