Souths young gun already next-gen leader

Keaon Koloamatangi wants to lead from the front to ensure Souths go beyond the preliminary final.
Keaon Koloamatangi wants to lead from the front to ensure Souths go beyond the preliminary final.

Keaon Koloamatangi has only played 35 NRL games but already he considers himself a leader for the next generation at South Sydney.

One of the game's most powerful young forwards, Koloamatangi will play a key role on Souths' dangerous left edge in Friday's preliminary final against Manly.

The 23-year-old has played in just one of the Rabbitohs' three straight preliminary finals losses, but is already desperate to prove South Sydney are more than a preliminary-final team.

And he will instil that approach into a number of the team's younger players.

A member of NSW's State of Origin camp for Game I this year, Koloamatangi returned to Redfern desperate to lead by example.

"Seeing all the top players in the comp and hanging with them every day and seeing what it takes to get to the top, it made me just want to work harder and become the best I can be," he said.

"Probably just using my voice and leading from the front (was the biggest thing).

"When they go back to the teams, they don't wait for someone to do it. They lead from the front.

"That's what I try to do, help the younger boys coming through like (rookie fullback Blake) Taaffe and guys who haven't played grade before.

"I tell them they are here for a reason and you haven't come all this way to do nothing. Tell them to take the opportunity."

It's clear Koloamatangi has impressed the right people at South Sydney, even before his NRL debut last year.

At the start of the 2020 preseason he was the player regularly talked up by senior players as their most exciting young talent, with the second-rower admitting he was shocked by the comments at the time.

Another clear sign is that Wayne Bennett hasn't asked him to cut his long hair in the Queensland hub, this time shocking his teammates and prompting them to label him the coach's favourite.

"Hopefully it's just because I am playing good," Koloamatangi quipped.

But on a more serious note he is desperate to progress past the Sea Eagles at Suncorp on Friday night, after feeling the pain of last year's preliminary-final loss to Penrith.

"Obviously you don't want to end your season like that, you want to end up on top," he said.

"When you lose like that you want to come back with a redemption season and have success.

"This is our fourth prelim (in a row), we don't want to be known as a team that makes the prelim each year.

"Hopefully we go the step further this year and get the job done."

Australian Associated Press