After recovering from two serious knee injuries in his early 20s, Rob Leota is simply grateful to be part of the Wallabies squad.
So it was to his surprise that he got the green light to start Saturday’s rugby league game against Argentina, having secured his first selection on the bench two weeks earlier against the Springboks.
“It was crazy, I was caught off guard,” said the massive back rower.
“I haven’t really had any communication before, it was a pretty surreal moment and to be able to tell my family as well.
“My face just appeared on the screen (at the team meeting) and I froze a bit… and it didn’t really click until the boys started clapping.”
Sporting a mule, Leota appears as a gentle, soft-spoken giant.
But on the pitch it’s the opposite, which is why coach Dave Rennie is convinced that the Melbourne Rebels’ 190cm and 110kg power will be a force to be reckoned with against an equally imposing Pumas field. .
“He’s a great man, a strong running back. He’s trained really well and been very close to the selection in the past,” said Rennie.
“We’re very keen to reward Rob – he’s been with us full time – and that’s a big part of the decision.”
It is this support that gives Leota confidence ahead of his Australian debut and fuels his inner belief that he can realize his manager’s investment.
“When you have a coach who believes in you, even though I was caught off guard, I know there’s a reason I’m here,” he said.
“It gives me a lot of confidence that the coaches really believe in me, support me to do a job and fulfill my role.”