He was a late bloomer by usual NRL standards, but Leivaha Pulu was worth the wait. The 27-year-old made his first-grade debut last year for the Gold Coast Titans and has since become a kay part of their Kiwi-dominated forward pack.
We caught up with the Auckland-born Marist Saints junior to get the lowdown on his journey so far.
KLC: Last year was a big one for you, the off-season break must have been appreciated…
LP: Yes! I got back to New Zealand over the off-season in October, me and my wife got married so we came back for a month before the pre-season.
We got married in Paihia in the Bay of Islands, a real beautiful place away from Auckland. It was great. We just decided to get out and do something different and a bit more intimate.
You were one of the real surprises packages last year and played 23 games, what’s the key difference now that you are in your second year of NRL?
I feel more confident this year, I have still got a lot to work on and all that, but i am pretty motivated to be bigger and stronger.
When you look back how do you view last year? It must have exceeded any expectations you set for yourself?
I was pretty blessed to play last year. We had a couple of injuries and a couple of things went my way. But I was lucky enough to play week in, week out. Getting the experience of playing alongside guys like Birdy [Greg Bird], Ryan [James] and all the other players was awesome.
You’re part of a pretty talented forward pack on the Gold Coast, how’s it been learning off those guys?
It’s good man, we have got [Kevin] Proctor there now and he has brought some real leadership to the crew. We have Chris [McQueen] there too who has won a Premiership. It’s a good back row.
And playing with Proctor, other than leadership what’s he brought to the party?
He’s brought professionalism, communication under fatigue, you know what us Kiwis are like under fatigue, we go into our shell! But he is really good at that stuff.
Have you got one eye on the World Cup at the end of the year?
Yeah, yeah hopefully. I’d love to play for the Kiwis. It’s a long shot right now, but I am working hard for it. I haven’t talked to anyone from the Kiwis yet, but it’s head down butt up and hopefully like last year a few things go my way.
If not the Kiwis then maybe the Tonga team for the World Cup.
— Athletic_lab (@athletic_lab) July 7, 2016
There’s been lots of guys come through from the Marist club in Auckland in the last few years in particular, what are your memories of playing for the club?
I played with a lot of friends at Marist, lifelong friends. I started my footy career there when I was about 15, so I had a lot to learn, but it was good with the boys there. They taught me how to play league well, because I was all union prior to that.
Who were some of the guys you came through with from Marist?
Manu [Ma’u] is a bit older than me, but I played with Kalifa Faifai Loa, Siuatonga [Likiliki] and guys like that who have come through. Whenever I see those boys, Kalifa still calls me by the name he has called me since Marist under-16s. I always know it’s him when I hear that name! It’s always good to catch up with those guys.
(Main photo: Leivaha Pulu at this year’s NRL Auckland Nines. Credit: photosport.nz).