Rugby league’s reluctant hero takes a stand
There was a time when Joey Leilua used to stay on the team bus to hide from the journalists waiting outside.
Quietly spoken, Leilua preferred to let his actions on the field do the talking for him.
Leilua last week called out NRL CEO Todd Greenberg for not taking the same 72 per cent pay cut as the players during the coronavirus crisis.
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The Wests Tigers recruit says he wants to speak out to defend his fellow players, and to ensure fairness, especially for those on minimum wage.
"Some people said, 'you're just money hungry', but it wasn't about me just expressing my opinion," Leilua told The Daily Telegraph.
"Everyone in the NRL felt the same way, but they didn't want to speak out about it.
"Everyone was thinking it, so let's just say it.
"There are players on minimum wage, and they have got young families.
"It is not fair that the administration only wanted to take a 25 per cent cut while these players who are on minimum wage take a bigger cut.
"Those players do the same pre-season, the same training as players on bigger wages like me, but we expect them to take the same pay cut.
"If it wasn't for the players - who would want to watch the game?
"I know the administrators have got a tough job as well, but it isn't as tough as going out there each week and putting our bodies on the line and not knowing what is going to happen to us.
"I feel sorry for those fringe players - they are the players I was standing up for."
Leilua has come a long way.
As a "naughty boy", he regularly found himself in hot water on and off the field, resulting in his mind and focus often being elsewhere.
"I've learnt from my mistakes along the way and I've become a better man," he said.
"Now I've become a family man and I'm taking a different path.
"I knew I was going to get some critics and some backlash, but I wasn't afraid.
"I've been through ups and downs and I know that I'm strong minded enough to not let it affect me.
"So, I was ready for the backlash and what people would think or say.
"I don't care too much about people having opinions of me. I just take on the opinions of people who are really close to me.
"They are the people who actually care about me and they are the opinions that I take on."
Leilua is happy in his own skin, but he isn't comfortable with the mantle - 'the man that brought down Todd Greenberg', after the NRL boss responded to his criticism and offered to take the same pay cut as the players.
"It can't just be one man to take a pay cut," he said.
"All the administration should take the same cut. Maybe then there would be more money to spread around for all the players.
"If they are trying to start the game as soon as possible using our money, let us know because we don't know where all the money is going.
"Someone needs to stand up, when the game is back up and running, and ask what has all this money been spent on?
"You're kidding me."
RLPA CEO Clint Newton contacted Leilua last week after his comments to provide support and offer him a bigger role within the players' union.
"I told him that I'd love to be involved," Leilua said. "I'm always here and I'll put my hand up.
"If they would like me to jump on board, I'd love to be a part of it."
Leilua has struggled without football, so he is determined to return to the field as soon as possible.
He is willing to go into the NRL's isolation bubble to resume the competition, but he wants to be rewarded for the sacrifice of leaving his family behind.
"If they give us money to ensure we can support our families, then I'm sure our families will understand," he said.
"But it is going to be tough for players with young families. I don't know how they are going to take it.
"But if we can put food on the table and provide for our families, then we will do it."
Originally published as Rugby league's reluctant hero takes a stand