Rugby News: ‘I thought I was in trouble’ – Leota surprised by Rebels decision, Reds beat Broncos to ‘elite’ schoolboy talent


Rob Leota was a little concerned when his boss Kevin Foote summoned him for a meeting last winter. Instead, he sat in Foote’s room proud and humbled by the fact he had been offered the captaincy of the Melbourne Rebels.

“I sort of thought I was in trouble,” Leota told The Roar. “I was on break. We had four days off for Wallabies and I came home and trained at AAMI Park and he just asked if we could have a chat. The last thing I was thinking about was the captaincy.

“I was a bit speechless and pretty proud.

“The family were very proud. Dad isn’t a man of many words but I know when he doesn’t say much he’s very proud. They’ve got a lot to do with my motivation in rugby.

“Taking on this role is like giving back and showing them that all the training sessions that they were taking me when I was young was worth it.”

A local product who grew up in Melbourne, the Wallaby’s rise to Rebels captain is another tick for rugby in Victoria.

As they say, you can’t be what you can’t see.

For Leota, the brutal blindside flanker, who is equally adept in the second-row in Super Rugby, wants to be an inspiration for those coming through the ranks at a junior level and thinking about picking up a ball.

“The last two-three years, we’ve got a good young generation here in Victoria, seeing the academy boys come through now is really exciting and positive,” he said.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“I think that Test in Melbourne [in 2022] was one of the biggest things for me when we played the All Blacks. Obviously a lot of the media came out and spoke to me because I was a Melbourne kid, but it wasn’t just me, [other local products] Rob [Valetini] as well, Pete Samu, Pone [Fa’amausili].

“It was a huge factor in me taking on the leadership role. I think if we can build a winning legacy here and, with me as captain, it will be great for kids in Melbourne and wanting to play and be like us.”

Softly spoken, Leota believes he’s starting to feel more comfortable in showing his character.

“Obviously down in Melbourne and being in the Wallabies more, I think my character was able to come out more recently,” he said.

“The boys know me as a bit of a clown, joking around a bit, but that’s me in Melbourne as well.

“For me, it’s about being able to make the youngest player in the squad through to the oldest player comfortable and able to be themselves, but when it is time to play and time to prepare being able to switch on. My version of leading is definitely through my action.”

Leota’s delight of playing in last year’s epic Bledisloe clash was of course cruelled by the devastation of finishing the game on crutches, as the loose-forward sustained a ruptured Achilles.

Not only did the devastating injury end his season, it meant he wouldn’t be able to lead the Rebels into 2023.

But Leota said the fact he had been handed the leadership duties had been a motivating factor in doing everything he possibly could to get back onto the field as quick as possible.

“Being involved with the captaincy it gave me the motivation to get back as quick as possible,” he said.

“After the surgery my mindset was about getting fit and healthy as quick as I could and I was pretty positive. It also allowed me to spend a bit of time at home after a lot of travel too.”

In his absence, Brad Wilkin will captain the Rebels.

The forward, however, is hoping to start running in the next couple of weeks and is targeting a return in May.

“I’m aiming for the last three or four games,” he said.

If he does that, Leota could well have another three or four matches to push his claim for a World Cup berth – perhaps one at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the opening Bledisloe match too.

He also revealed that he has been helped during his recovery by Wallabies team mate Quade Cooper, who endured the same injury last year.

“I regularly chatted with Quade from early on and we message a fair bit or he calls to check up on me and how my rehab in going,” Leota told AAP.

“It’s not good he’s also injured but it’s good to have someone with the same injury.

“Quade’s mindset is so helpful … I’ve just been trying to learn as much as I can from what he’s going through as he keeps my mind open to new things.”

‘It felt right to come back to union’

Australian rugby is celebrating a recruitment win after Frankie Goldsbrough resisted rugby league’s overtures to sign with the Queensland Reds, reports AAP.

The 17-year-old will complete his final year at GPS school Churchie as one of the hottest schoolboy talents in either rugby code.

He’ll head to Ballymore full-time in 2024, where insiders say the centre is a realistic chance of joining the likes of Jordan Petaia, Ben Tune and Daniel Herbert as an 18-year-old Super Rugby debutant.

Goldsbrough was on the NRL’s books at Brisbane, where he played as a lock for Wynnum Manly’s underage sides.

But the teenager knocked back a contract extension in favour of his first true love.

“It felt right to come back to union; I really loved the season last year, have been playing since I was six and only moved to league for a couple of years there,” he told AAP.

“That was my gut feeling from the start and everything lined up and it was the way to go.”

The Reds are careful managers of their emerging talent but academy boss and former Wallabies winger Paul Carozza said Goldsbrough’s signature was important to trumpet.

“He’s a rugby junior; that’s the sort of player you don’t want to lose,” he told AAP.

“We see him as an elite talent in his age group, so wanted to see him playing rugby and put our best foot forward to keep him.

“He’s a really good player, but also a really good guy from a nice family. The kind of player we want at the Reds.”

Carozza said the arrival of the Dolphins as a fourth NRL team in Queensland was another threat to their stocks but that Wallabies coach Eddie Jones’ edict to target the likes of Goldsbrough was comforting.

“It is a challenge; everyone’s interested in the best footballers and we want to be in the mix with that,” he said.

“Particularly those rugby-first players like Frankie; we’d see that as a loss (if they play NRL).

“The reality is (with only five Australian Super club in total) there’s less opportunities.

“But in his age group he can play Reds under-18s and Australian under-18s for two years, go to a World Cup with the under-20 Wallabies and there’s Reds under-19s too.”

Goldsbrough said the carrots of a British and Irish Lions tour in 2025 and a home World Cup in 2027 were hard to ignore.

“But I still haven’t done much yet; another a year of school, then actually make the Reds team and then think about that sort of stuff,” he said.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login