Ex-NRL star Joey Leilua reveals fight experience ahead of professional debut

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Ex-NRL player Joey Leilua has made an eyebrow-raising comment ahead of his fight with a legend of the Wests Tigers — the club that rejected him.

On December 10, Leilua will fight retired 2005 premiership winner Chris Heighington as a curtain-raiser to Paul Gallen’s bout with Sea Eagles forward Josh Aloiai.

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The bout, consisting of 4×2 minute rounds, marks the professional debut of both Heighington and Leilua, but the latter said it wasn’t the first time he had squared off.

Asked on Monday whether he’d fought before, Leilua said: “It’s just mainly pub fights. I can’t say anything else or I’ll get in trouble.”

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Camera IconLeilua joined the Tigers after stints with the Roosters, Knights and Raiders. Robb Cox/NRL Photos Credit: The Daily Telegraph

Leilua made headlines after taking a swipe at Tigers coach Michael Maguire on social media when it became clear the club would not offer him a contract for the 2022 season.

The 29-year-old gave a measured response when asked if there was someone he hoped to prove wrong by stepping into the ring.

“I can’t really say, but you probably already know the answer to that,” he said.

Leilua revealed that it took only one text message to convince him to fight and that he had been training hard ever since.

“I just got a text, ‘Do you want to fight?’ and I said, ‘Yeah I’ll take a fight’,” Leilua recalled.

“I wasn’t scared or anything, I was excited because I’ve always wanted to box, but I never knew how hard it was.

“It’s been tough, six days a week, two sessions a day.

“It’s a lot harder than football, I know that, because you’re consistently working your whole body every single day.”

Heighington, 39, said he was relishing his underdog status.

“It’s going to be a hard fight but it’s better than taking on someone who’s retired and the same age as me. I want to be challenged. Taking on someone who’s the same age wouldn’t be a challenge to me,” he said.

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Camera IconHeighington played off the bench in the Wests Tigers’ first and only grand final win. Supplied Credit: News Limited

Heighington said he expected plenty of energy from his opponent.

“He’s a good footy player. He’s a powerful guy, so I’m going to have to be on my game. I’m going to have to be smart and try and outwork him. I’m pretty confident I can do that,” he said.

While Leilua has been training with Aloiai ahead of the fight, Heighington is taking pointers from pro boxer Sam Goodman (9-0).

“He’s hard to keep up with, he’s a gun in the gym,” Heighington said.

“He’s hard to punch and he’s always pushing me in the cardio. I’m hoping my fitness will be up there on the 10th. I’m training really hard.

“I’m trying to learn a lot about the art of boxing. There’s a lot of things to learn. I’ve been knuckling down and ripping in.”

The event’s promoter, Sea Eagles cult hero George Rose, said the Leilua/Heighington bout firmed as an “exciting” one.

“(They’re) two very different footy players. You’ve got a very aggressive, big guy in Joey Leilua and a tough workhorse in Chris Heighington,” Rose said.

“I think the fight is going to shape up pretty well. I think it’s a really good match for the pair of them.

“You never know what they’re going to bring when footy players cross over into the ring.

“I think the reason that they make such boxers is because it’s such a tough sport. It takes a big set of balls to step into the ring and I think that’s what you’ve got on show here.”

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