Group 20 rugby league
THINGS weren't this bad for the Griffith Waratahs the last time Kose Lelei was in town.
When he left to sign for Canterbury-Bankstown, the 'Tahs were still a Group 20 powerhouse, fresh off a grand final appearance in 2009 and a premiership the year before.
These days, it's a little different - last season, the club was flat out scraping the numbers together for a first-grade side, and only dodged the wooden spoon because crosstown rivals the Black and Whites somehow had it worse.
It’s been a barren three years for Griffith rugby league but Lelei, who returned home last week to captain-coach his old side, is committed to bringing back the glory days for the black and gold.
“I heard they went terrible last year – there were a few losses there that were 100 points,” he told The Area News.
“It’s like there was noone to lead them, pretty much.
“That’s not the Waratahs I’m used to, no way. I want to help rebuild it.
“You’ve got to start from somewhere, I guess.”
Lelei, 25, will be using every bit of knowledge he gleaned from his time in the NRL system, having been on the books of the Bulldogs, Raiders, Sharks and Dragons since leaving Griffith at the end of 2009.
The crafty utility has already put it to good use, putting the Waratahs through a gruelling training session on Thursday at Exies Oval.
It’s a sign of things to come for the rest of the pre-season, Lelei said.
“I smashed the boys a bit,” he laughed.
“I knew most of them from before and it was good to catch up with everyone.
“I just got them to smash each other and work on our defence.
“I was surprised, the young boys really stepped up and took it to the seniors.
“Just from being there and training with heaps of first-graders in Sydney, and getting to know them, you learn so much.
“It’s all about commitment for them and training your arse off. It’s mental toughness.
“That’s what I’m trying to show the boys now.”
In a further boost for the Waratahs, Lelei has brought two ex-Bulldogs under 20s players with him from Sydney – his brother, Moahoni, and hulking New Zealand prop Michael Ioapo.
The club also has several other signings in the pipeline, but will need to accelerate the process with the Paul Kelly Memorial Shield only a month away.
Lelei said he was confident the Waratahs would be a far more formidable proposition under his command.
“It should be a strong team, hopefully,” he said.
“I think we can be competitive for sure. I’ve just got to get them fit. We’re just trying to get the whole team together and figure out who we’ve got and get a 13 in place, and go from there.”
Lelei said he was motivated to return to Griffith partly by the opportunity to start his coaching career, but mostly so he can bring up his ninemonth-old son Kobe the way he was raised.
“Out in Sydney, I didn’t really like the lifestyle out there,” he said.
“I wanted to bring the little one back home – I’d rather raise him here in Griffith than anywhere else.”