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Leatigaga embraces Leicester expectations

Nephi Leatigaga has set his sights on being a part of history.

And, who would argue with him?

At 150kg, the Samoa international was the biggest arrival at Leicester over the summer and is under no illusion of what expectations come with being a part of the Tigers squad.

Standing on the famous Welford Road Terrace for the first time, the 26-year-old is in awe of his new home and gets straight to the point on his intentions.

“The history of forwards play and the scrum means everything at Tigers,” says Leatigaga.

“I know the expectation levels at the scrum here and the chance to learn from the best, like Dan Cole and Boris, is a main reason why I signed.”

As a front-rower, it would be crazy to not want to pack down with and against Cole and have the experience of Stankovich guiding him throughout the process.

I can’t wait to do my bit for the team here in front of all the fans

However, it’s not only the more than acceptable selfishness of improving that had him accept the offer to move from the South West coast of France to the East Midlands of England.

“I want to make a difference and be a part of something big,” he says without hesitation when asked of what made him pack up life in Biarritz and head for Leicester.

A pause, another look around the historic home of the Leicester Tigers and Leatigaga added: “I am here to help get this club back to where it should be.”

“It has a huge history in rugby.

“I need to be professional with everything, this is a big step for me and I have a lot to prove.

“There are a lot of quality players here … I need to do my bit and contribute to the team.”

Leicester came knocking towards the end of his debut season in French rugby and the Samoan was Brando-esque while recalling the way events played out.

“After my first season with Biarritz, the offer was there for me from Tigers,” he says. 

“And then I thought it was just too good an offer to refuse.”

Again, who is willing to argue with him?

However, while he may have strolled in at 150kg, Leatigaga has spent the summer months sweating it out under the guidance of the club’s strength and conditioners and coaching staff to get himself at a fighting weight of 136kg for the new campaign.

I arrived at 150kg and now I’m at 136kg to get me around the pitch a bit quicker and playing a bit fitter

Which, on day one, he was told immediately after the niceties were ticked off by Geordan Murphy and his staff.

“When I first got here, they’ve told me they’re happy to have me here,” recalls Leatigaga. 

“Then it was about my main focus being to get my weight down and get fit.

“I arrived at 150kg and now I’m at 136kg to get me around the pitch a bit quicker and playing a bit fitter.”

Thankfully, he is now doing just that. Playing, that is.

Leatigaga came off the bench as a replacement for Tigers in their away win over Bath in Round 3 of the Premiership Cup, down a man for half an hour after a red card to Tatafu Polota-Nau in the 50th minute.

The first emotion he felt after being told he would be making his debut?

“Stoked.”

Another pause from the big man as he looks around Welford Road.

Then, he adds: “I’m a Leicester Tiger now. I am just stoked.”

Capable of packing down at either loose or tight head prop, Leatigaga also offers the more and more rare bonus of versatility in the front row – which his team-mate Greg Bateman refers to as being like a Swiss army knife.

Unsure of what Bateman means?

It apparently refers to “offering everything in one.”

However, that's beside the point...

As for Leatigaga’s thoughts or preferences on a jersey number, he’s content with either.

“I play both sides … it’s a tricky question, I’ve played both sides my whole life,” says the man now known affectionately as “Neph” by his new team-mates.

“I like being known as a front-rower, I like to play both sides of the scrum.”

We’re sounding repetitive, yes, but who is going to argue with him?

With each question on the notepad crossed out, a final thought is put to the man who continues to admire his new surrounds.

"What do you think of this place, Welford Road?" is all we can think to say to this huge, softly-spoken Samoan towering over us.

“The feeling when I first saw Welford Road was awesome … it’s just awesome,” he says, admiring the view.

“Knowing those players who have worn the Tigers jersey before is quite overwhelming and what they have done here for the club.”

“I can’t wait to do my bit for the team here in front of all the fans.”

Again, no arguments here!