Possessing a cool head on the field of someone far beyond his years and level of experience, Isaiya Katoa has proven a revelation for the Dolphins this season.
The young Dolphins half – still only 19 years old – was a key player in helping his side turn around a 26-point deficit to post a record 28-26 win against the Titans on Sunday, with a try assist and 416 kick metres, but he – and coach Wayne Bennett – weren’t buying into the hype around him just yet.
“He is (mature), but he has a long way to go … he’s no Allan Langer yet,” Bennett told reporters at the post-match press conference when asked about his game.
Katoa for his part said he fully understood Bennett’s ‘tough love' stance, saying it was helping him develop as a player.
“I definitely understand, and it's awesome … I think as a young kid coming through, I need that, I need someone to be pushing me the right way and he's always done that,” Katoa said.
“He's pushing me to be better every week. Every week, he's challenged me to go up that next level.
Dolphins get on the board
“After this weekend, we'll go back to the drawing board and he'll challenge me to another thing and I think it's awesome he keeps me on my toes and makes sure I can handle myself.
“He's congratulated me here and there, but he's always kept me pretty grounded and I think that overall, he’s just put a lot of belief in me to back myself as a young kid and just make sure whatever I do, I do it 100 percent.”
However, his teammates, including try-scorer Jarrod Wallace were happy to sing his praises, congratulating him for a “fantastic” game, while injured halfback Sean O’Sullivan said he had belief in the Tonga representative to guide the team around in his absence.
Katoa, who has five try assists in his seven games behind competition leader Cody Walker with nine from eight, was grateful for O’Sullivan’s input, saying the work he was doing with him was also helping improve his skills.
“In terms of composure, I think I've definitely had a lot of help from the coaching staff, Wayne himself putting a lot of belief in me to take control of the team, to see them around, as well as my halves partner Kodi (Nikorima) and also Milf (Anthony Milford) and Seany, even though they are injured … they're still around and giving me a lot of tips as a young half,” Katoa said.
As well as learning from his current coaching staff and teammates, Katoa – who alongside O’Sullivan – spent time in the Penrith Panthers system, said he had taken on board the techniques of premiership-winning halfback Nathan Cleary while he was at the club.
“Being a Penrith junior, I watched him a lot … his composure, he's so calm when it comes to the big moments,” Katoa said.
“He's great at putting teams in bad spots, he's got a great kicking game, he can steer a team around him.
“As a half, if you can stay, compose yourself, it kind of has a funnel on effect to your teammates and you know they can stay composed as well.
“I watched this game all the time and credit to him, he’s a great player, he works hard and something I also picked up was just if you can practice what you're going to do in the game, it's going to make the game a lot easier when it comes to those positions and situations.”
The Dolphins won’t face off against the Panthers until Round 20 where they will host them at Kayo Stadium, where the battle between the halves will be key to the result of the match.
This coming week for Round 9, they will head to Wagga Wagga to take on the Raiders.
Match: Raiders v Dolphins
Round 9 -
Venue: McDonalds Park, Wagga Wagga