Pitch Koroisau had to make to become a Panther
As clubs circled in-demand hooker Api Koroisau, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was having none of it.
With Manly agreeing to release him at the end of last season, Koroisau was being talked up around the NRL. But Cleary was silent - put off by his first encounter with the young hooker when booze and parties trumped training and hard graft.
Koroisau arrived at Cleary's Penrith in 2015 after being part of South Sydney's premiership team. He lasted just one year before heading to the Sea Eagles; Koroisau conceding to The Sunday Telegraph that football wasn't his No.1 priority in that first Panthers stint.
"I've grown a lot," said Koroisau, 27, who in August again signed with Penrith.
"In 2015, it was more of a year where I was happy to be there, making a bit of money; spending it on alcohol and partying on the weekend. I didn't take my footy too serious back then. Turn a few years forward, I now have a wife and kid. I am really happy and I just want to play good footy.''
Cleary was interested in bringing Koroisau back but he wanted the young man to convince him that he was worth it.
"Most definitely Ivan was (sussing me out)," Koroisau said.
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"He would've known how I was in 2015. He went about it the right way in my mind. It resonated well with me and that's why I gravitated towards Penrith. I had a meeting with Ivan pretty late. He didn't have to sell anything. It was a normal conversation with barely any talk about footy. It was mainly about life. We spoke about my growth and how far I've come. I had to sell myself."
The Warriors and Canterbury were in pursuit of Koroisau, who was told by Manly he was free to go at the end of last season. But just two days after meeting his old coach, he was back in Penrith colours.
"I was really close (to signing elsewhere)," he said.
"I liked the team (at Penrith) at the end of the day. There is a lot of young potential there. I feel like we can do something special. Ivan is a great coach."
While Koroisau was feeling the love from Cleary, he wasn't getting similar vibes from the Sea Eagles.
Despite being wanted by the club, he was told he was free to look elsewhere given salary cap constraints and the emergence of Manase Fainu.
It's a decision Manly must be ruing given the uncertainty now around Fainu, who has been charged with intent to cause grievous bodily harm over an alleged stabbing attack at a western Sydney church in late October. Koroisau said he was rattled by the conversation with Manly.
"It was tough," he said.
"To think your coach has faith in you as a player to hold the standards of the team and then get told that you're not wanted but they could do without you. Of course, it was going to hurt. But I didn't let it get me down."