Tonight, the New South Wales Blues will celebrate their first Origin series victory since 2014.
Despite his enormous potential, Canberra Raiders centre Joey Leilua won’t be there. And by his actions on Saturday night, it looks like he may never get there.
Leilua epitomises the Raiders’ season in 2018. There is no doubt that he has the talent to represent his state.
He has seven tries, 49 tackle-busts and 31 offloads to his name this year and is one of the most damaging ball-runners in the competition.
However, ability is simply what you are capable of doing. Attitude determines how well you do it.
And it is Leilua’s attitude that is holding him back from making his State of Origin debut.
Leilua’s actions on Saturday night have been well-documented. Having scored the match-winning try against the Bulldogs in the 79th minute, the Samoan international’s first instinct was to taunt Brett and Josh Morris, who he had just beaten on his way to the try line.
This is a pair of brothers who have combined to play 53 games for Australia and New South Wales during their accomplished careers.
Instead of celebrating with his teammates, Leilua instead mocked the Canterbury duo.
The argument defending Leilua’s actions has been that the pair sledged him when they took him over the sideline during the game. Even if this is true, the bigger man lets his actions do the talking.
In this case, the try in itself, which subjected the Bulldogs to a disappointing defeat, would have been the perfect response from Leilua.
The gobful that he gave the Morris twins after spoke volumes of the attitude problem that is holding him back from a debut in the Origin arena.
With Brad Fittler’s selection as the head coach of the Blues came the dawn of a new team culture south of the border.
Fittler said it himself to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Webster in the lead-up to Game 1 of the series, “Footy is all about character. It’s nothing to do with skill — it’s all character. The theme has always been about putting your team first and in our game that’s a test of character.”
Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson and Andrew Fifita were the first victims of the new criteria.
There has been a noticeable difference in the way that the Blues have played this year. In 2018 they have played for each other.
Heartwrenching stuff, I know.
But just look at the way that they banded together to defend their 18-14 lead against Queensland in Game 2 after James Roberts was binned in the final fifteen minutes of the match.
It is a culture that Leilua simply does not fit into at the moment.
Only in Round 17 last year, the Canberra centre was sin-binned late in the Raiders’ 31-18 loss to the Cowboys for recklessly striking Kyle Feldt with his elbow.
While it did not cost his team given that the result was already decided, Leilua’s ill-discipline and attitude problems will continue to hold him back if he cannot change.
He only has to look at the current NSW Blues squad to recognise that he is more than capable of transforming himself as a player.
One of the most inspiring stories of the year came from the NRL.com’s chief reporter, Michael Chammas, who revealed Roberts’ battle with drugs, alcohol and mental illness – a battle that he was able to overcome.
Only yesterday, Chammas also told Melbourne flyer Josh Addo-Carr’s journey, including his troubled path to first grade which saw him punted from the South Sydney SG Ball side after ending up in jail.
Both players were not saints. They had their demons.
Yet, both of their stories are a testament to their determination and courage to get to where they are now.
They have earned respect.
Reading stories of triumph about players like Roberts and Addo-Carr never gets tiring.
Constantly reading about players like Leilua being released from the Knights and Roosters for disciplinary reasons does.
Leilua is one of the most talented centres in the competition. There is no doubt about that.
However, ability is not holding him back, his attitude is.
Once he realises this and takes action he too can be one of the feel-good stories that we prefer to see.