When teachers at Patrician Brothers, Blacktown need to motivate their students, they talk about Penrith Panthers’ wrecking ball Spencer Leniu.
Or Stephen Crichton, or Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, or even Luke Lewis.
The school is spoiled for choice, really, when it comes to talented alumni who made it to the NRL.
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But on those stinking hot afternoons, when Jacqueline Mercieca can’t get a classroom of 17-year-old boys to write about Shakespeare, she tells them about Leniu.
The prop who topped English.
It’s almost poetic.
“The other boys would always ask, how does Spencer do so well, when he doesn’t say anything in class? But little did they know that he was putting in the extras behind the scenes,” English teacher Ms Mercieca said.
“If you told him something, he’d listen to every word you’d say, and that’s obviously paid off for him with footy.”
But Leniu wasn’t always an A+ student.
Australian Schoolboy, club and school footy commitments didn’t leave much time for homework.
“I probably didn’t think about my studies until Year 11 … (Ms Mercieca) pulled me aside and said you can really do more than just be a football player,” Leniu said.
“(Ms Mercieca) really tried hard to push me to get good grades, I thought I owed it to her to try hard, and fortunately I was at the top of the subject.”
After school, he was accepted to university to study primary school teaching and quickly progressed into the Panthers top-30 squad.
“When we say Spencer did this, there’s no reason why you can’t be good at more than one thing, a lot of them prick their ears up,” Ms Mercieca said.
“Because he’s done it and he started in the exact same place as they did.” Ms Mercieca said.
In life after rugby league, Leniu intends to work as a primary school teacher.
“I think they are really underpaid and they deserve more,” Leniu said.
“They invested a lot of time in me during Year 12, they definitely inspired me to try and have that same impact on another student.”
Five current Panthers played schoolboy footy at Patrician Brothers – Leniu, Crichton, Brent Naden and Tyrone May.
The school is obviously doing something right.
“I think everyone sees good players go there so they want to go there,” Leniu said.
“Besides football, going to Patty’s they teach you a lot about brotherhood and stuff like that. I think they have good players on the field, but they’re really good men off the field.”
Two years after they were crowned Schoolboy Cup NSW champions, Leniu can’t believe he and Crichton are now running around together in the NRL.
“If you asked me two years ago, told me that you guys would be playing (NRL), that me and Critta would be playing together, at the top of the table right now, I’d be like no you’re kidding yourself,” Leniu said.
And he’ll never forget those who helped him along the way.
“He came back to school before his debut, him and Stephen (Crichton), they gave us tickets so there was a whole bunch of teachers there, watching,” Ms Mercieca said.
“At the end of the day, whether they make it or not, we just want to see them meet their potential.”