Penrith prop Moses Leota has put his car-washing days behind him and turned into a fearsome forward described by coach Ivan Cleary as “a grand final specialist”.
The 28-year-old played a blinder and scored the try that turned the tide in the Panthers’ 26-24 grand final win over Brisbane to secure a rare three-peat of titles for Cleary’s men.
From the highs of grand final success, Leota reflected on a journey that had the humblest of beginnings.
“This club has helped me all the way from the start. When I was doing it tough they gave me a job washing cars,” Leota told AAP.
“They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I am always thankful for the love that they have shown me.”
Leota made a statement early in Sunday’s decider by running it up and sitting Broncos lock Pat Carrigan on his backside in a fearsome collision.
“I was just doing my job,” the humble Leota said.
He was magnificent all night, backing up Nathan Cleary to score the try that started the Panthers’ resurgence when they trailed 24-8.
“I was hungry for a try,” Leota grinned.
“I just stay in the present and take every set as it comes, and that was the reward on the back of it.
“We were behind the sticks and our leader (Isaah) Yeo said if we stick to the process everything we have done during the year will pay off.
“I am just very proud of all the boys.”
Coach Cleary wouldn’t swap Leota for any other prop in the game.
“Moses plays well every week but he has become a bit of a grand final specialist. He is such a weapon,” Cleary told AAP.
“Last year against Parramatta he was unlucky not to get the Clive Churchill Medal. He couldn’t take it off Dylan Edwards.
“He was out on his feet (on Sunday) but managed to come up with big plays.
“The try was a huge play, just his acceleration and presence of mind to back up. That is what got us back in the game.”
Cleary was in awe of his starting font-rower who ran for a season-high 163 metres and set a magnificent platform alongside prop partner and great mate James Fisher-Harris.
“What Moses can do doesn’t really surprise us here,” Cleary said.
“He has skills to his game but deep down he is a front door front-rower.
“At the start of all the big games it is very intense and he is just as good as anyone on the big stage.
“He gets better and better each year. He has played injured a lot too which no one knows about.
“His combination with (Fisher-Harris) is a big part of what we do.”