Club super fan and Cowboys.com.au contributor Kate Cornish speaks to 21-year-old outside back Laitia Moceidreke about his move to the Cowboys and what it would mean to represent Fiji.
It may have been a whirlwind mid-season transfer in 2021 that saw Laitia Moceidreke up in Cowboys country, but with a debut for his new club already under his belt, this young, athletic winger has much to look forward to in 2022.
Growing up in Campsie in New South Wales, Moceidreke says his rugby league heroes and inspiration came from big name players like Petero Civoniceva and Wes Naiqama.
Proudly of Fijian decent, with both his parents born there, he hails from a family of high sporting achievers. His older brother made his NRL debut for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2017, while his grandfather was a Fijian sprinter who competed in the men's 100 and 200 metres at the 1960 Summer Olympics. It is this strong heritage that Moceidreke says is why his dream is to represent Fiji at the NRL World Cup, just like his brother, Sitiveni.
“I would love to win a World Cup with Fiji, to make my name in rugby league and to make the most of this opportunity. It would be massive for me to represent Fiji. I remember seeing how happy it made my family when my brother played. It would be great to put on the jersey and even better if I could play alongside my brother.”
It was last June when Moceidreke found himself on a plane bound for Townsville after being granted an early release from the Bulldogs, and while he admits he found it hard to leave family and friends behind, he says it was opportunity too good to pass up.
“I have settled in and this place has grown on me. I am loving it up here. The boys have made me feel really welcome and made the transition really easy.”
With barely a chance to unpack his suitcase, the 21-year-old made his NRL debut in Round 23 against the Parramatta Eels, even before he had played a game in the Queensland Cup. While the Cowboys lost that game, it was a huge win for Moceidreke, who was lucky enough to receive a beautiful flick-pass from Jeremiah Nanai and stroll over to score on debut.
“I remember it vividly and I keep replaying it in my head. It is probably one of, if not the best moment of my life to be honest. Putting on that Cowboys jersey and playing in the NRL, I honestly did not think it would happen so quick. But the opportunity came my way and I grabbed it with both hands,” Moceidreke said.
“Just to debut would have been enough for me, but to score on debut, that is what you dream about as a kid. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it or watch it on my phone.”
When head coach Todd Payten approached Moceidreke at training to let him know that he was going to make his debut on the wing, Moceidreke says he did not believe him at first.
Though he admits he was shaking with nerves on the plane ride down to the Gold Coast and even on the bus to the stadium, sitting in the sheds with his new team before his debut, Moceidreke says it was a surreal feeling when he was presented his jersey by Cowboys stalwart, Jake Granville.
“He has been in the game a while and he knows how it works. It was very special. He is one of the top blokes in this club and well respected, so I was very grateful to be handed my jersey by Jake. I honestly couldn’t believe it. It was a surreal feeling”.
Moceidreke says that now that he has tasted first-grade he cannot wait to get back on the field.
“Once you have played your first NRL game you want more. That is the pinnacle of our sport and you train your hardest to make the 17, and I definitely want more games under my belt this year.”
“Pre-season has been tough. You don’t want to over-step with the senior players, but you also want to find your feet. I have been learning off players like Kyle Feldt, Peta Hiku, Valentine Holmes and Murray Taulagi, who has a few games under his belt now. He has really helped me with my game.”
Like so many of the young players coming through who are trying to find their place in the squad, Moceidreke is eagle-eyed trying to learn as much as he can, whether it be on the field during training or absorbing all of the advice from the coaching staff.
A name that keeps coming up as a Cowboy to watch is 2022 is Jeremiah Nanai and Moceidreke has nothing but praise for the young second rower and what he is showing in the lead up to the season.
“He is really killing it out there with his movements and how he carries himself at training. He is a very skilful young player.”
Cowboys fans also had their first look at their new half back, Chad Townsend, in the trial game against the Broncos last weekend, and Moceidreke says he has been impressed with how much effort Townsend also puts into the younger players.
“He is a real leader. He helps the younger players with how to read plays. He is always in early ticking all the boxes and leading the way for all of us. He is going to bring a lot of value to our team.”
Working hard for the chance of more NRL appearances this season and dreaming of a call-up to the Fijian national team for the World Cup is enough to ensure Laitia Moceidreke leaves nothing in reserve for the 2022 season.