Following every triumphant home game at BlueBet Stadium, Spencer Leniu and several of his comrades from the Penrith team seclude themselves at midfield for a quiet moment of prayer. They then immerse themselves in the exultation that intoxicates Panthers fans after the stellar victories they’ve grown so accustomed to.
However, the forthcoming match holds a more personal significance for this formidable prop, as it marks his final appearance at the venue as a Panther. He is set to join the ranks of the Roosters in 2024.
This week’s qualifying final versus the Warriors also signifies the end of local junior Stephen Crichton’s journey on home turf. Crichton will be trading Penrith for Belmore next year, as he gears up to join the Bulldogs.
An emotional coda looms over the Samoan World Cup heroes who opened their NRL chapters simultaneously with a victorious bout against the Sharks in 2019. Crichton managed to mark the scoreboard with a try in three consecutive grand finals.
“At the game’s close last week, we gathered in the middle to offer our ritual prayer,” Leniu disclosed. “I was wrapped in a 360-degree panorama of this magnificent stadium, cocooned by these wonderful people. The reality of this ending is seeping in, and I anticipate an emotional outpouring once the game concludes. I will certainly use this moment to connect with our fans.”
While Leniu is slated to commemorate his 23rd birthday on the eve of the face-off with the Warriors, the ebullient forward aspires to etch one final jubilant recollection at the ground that witnessed both his NSW Cup and NRL debuts.
However, his most cherished memory revolves around an electrifying victory over Melbourne, in their inaugural encounter post the 2020 decider. He vividly recalls a legendary tackle by Viliame Kikau post siren, toppling Melbourne’s hopes of a win.
Broaching the subject of the opposition he’ll face as a Rooster, Leniu claims he hasn’t singled out any Penrith contender. Nevertheless, a friendly face-to-face with his dear friend Sunia Turuva isn’t out of question, provided Turuva survives his wild, potentially injurious try celebration antics.
Leniu reveals he has brushed upon the prospect of the shift with Roosters coach Trent Robinson. However, these discussions are temporarily shelved as the club hones their focus on the impending premiership campaigns.
Among the subjects not broached in their conversations is Roosters’ infamously volatile prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, presently on suspension for the remainder of the year. The pair previously clashed this season when Hargreaves targeted Leniu with a thrown water bottle.
Despite the lack of a showdown with Waerea-Hargreaves this time around, Leniu’s challenge comes in the form of Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake, who is currently basking in the prime of his career.
“His performance this year has been nothing short of extraordinary,” remarks Leniu. “He is among the top-performing front-rowers of the year. I trust that Moses and Fish (James Fisher-Harris) will handle him more than I will have to. If all goes well, he’ll be off the field by the time I make my entrance, and I won’t have to concern myself with him.”