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When former rugby league superstar Ali Lauititi is your uncle and you happen to also be named after him, you’d better be handy with a rugby league ball. 

Luckily that’s the case for Papatoetoe Panthers product Ali Leiataua, with the talented fullback set to take the next step in his own promising league career by representing Auckland in the NZRL National 20s competition which kicks off this weekend. 

As the first boy in his family, Leiataua was named after his mum Tala’s brother Ali, who at the time of his nephew’s birth in January 2003 had just come off a spectacular NRL campaign with the New Zealand Warriors in which he was named the competition’s best second-rower.

“We talk heaps of footy. He comes over most days and we chat,” Leiataua said of his relationship with his uncle. 

“I’d just been born in his last few years at the Warriors, so I was too young to remember, but I’ve seen lots of clips of him playing and he was a pretty damaging ball runner.

“A few times we have had a game in the backyard… he’s still got it, he’s a bit unfit now but you can tell he still has it in him!

“We are different builds, but he still thinks he can beat me in a race.

“He’s very competitive and I think that’s where I get it from.”

In good news for the Auckland Blue side, Leiataua’s tip sheet includes ideas on replicating uncle Ali’s renowed offload game. 

“He’s told me to always try and get that ball free when I run and to always keep the ball in two hands to keep the opposition in two minds, and that way you always have an option for a fend,” Leiataua said.

“When he’s not busy he comes and watches, or if it’s on TV he watches, and he’s like a little game review guy for me.

“He’ll come over and sit me down for a chat and tell me what I did do well and what I didn’t do well.”

Linking up with the Auckland U20s marks Leiataua’s return to league, after spending last season playing school rugby union. 

“I missed league, it’s my bread and butter. It’s good to get back into it,” Leiataua said. 

“It’s been good to play league again, it had been a while.

“When I turned up at the trial there were a few familiar faces I played with and against.

“It’s something new playing with the older boys – there’s guys in the team who are two years older than me – so physically it’s a little bit harder, but with training so consistently it’s been good so far.”