THE NEW DEAL
I was asked a question after the prelim final that caught me a bit by surprise.
â€?Would you consider retiring if the Storm win the grand final?â€™
I hadnâ€™t up to that point. My contract was up, however my intention had been to play an 18th, and possibly a 19th, season in the NRL. But the thing with being a professional athlete is that nothing is guaranteed until a contract is signed.
I didnâ€™t have one at that stage, so all possibilities were open.
My answer to the question was something along the lines of, â€?Youâ€™d have to consider it,â€™ which some people took to mean that I was intending to walk away. That wasnâ€™t the case. It was just an acknowledgement that, with no new contract in front of me, I had to be prepared for any outcome.
The idea about playing on really crystallised after I retired from rep footy last year. Origin, in particular, can create workload issues through the middle of the season. The impact it has on your club performances can be significant.
I didnâ€™t have to factor that in last season and my body felt better for it.
Another question that has come up recently has been about how my new contract is structured. Let me be really clear about this: itâ€™s a straight-up two-year deal. Thereâ€™s no clause in my favour and no clause in the clubâ€™s favour through 2019 about my role in 2020.
What Iâ€™ve told the Storm is that Iâ€™ll be in constant talks with Craig through the season about my form, the teamâ€™s form and my contribution to it. Iâ€™ve done that for many years. Craig is as honest a sounding board as youâ€™ll get and I know heâ€™ll always tell it to me straight.
Sugar-coating isnâ€™t really his go, you might have noticed!
So thereâ€™s no clause. No handshake deal. No inching towards the exit.
Iâ€™ve signed a two-year deal and my intention is to honour it.
Over the years, Iâ€™ve spoken to a lot of players whoâ€™ve retired from playing. Almost to a man, theyâ€™ve said they woke up one morning and realised they didnâ€™t have the desire to put themselves through the training sessions, the meetings, the long pre-seasons anymore.
If they could just play the game, theyâ€™d have kept going. But thatâ€™s not how professional sport works.
You have to commit to all of it. Not just the games. Everything.
I still feel very much committed to all of it.
We lost four players from our premiership team after 2017, including a 300-gamer in Cooper Cronk, and we were able to get ourselves back to the grand final last year.
That was a decent challenge but Iâ€™d say building this yearâ€™s squad is a bigger one. It stands to reason. Any team that loses more than 700 games of experience in an off-season would be in the same boat.
But I like the squad weâ€™re putting together.
Scott Drinkwater has been training at fullback since Billyâ€™s retirement and heâ€™s come a long, long way. Thereâ€™s been a huge jump in his skillset from year to year. Unfortunately, Drinky suffered a serious injury in our trial against the NQ Cowboys so we may not see him until late in the season.Â
Tino Faâ€™Asuamaleaui is another. Heâ€™s only 18, which is pretty scary in itself, because it means he was born the year before I made my NRL debut!
Tino joined us last year and was part of our development squad in Melbourne. Heâ€™s made some huge leaps, especially physically. Heâ€™s put on weight and the intensity he shows at training is impressive. That extra size has given him confidence to take on our more experienced guys in the middle like Jesse Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Dale Finucane.
Let me be really clear about this: itâ€™s a straight-up two-year deal. Thereâ€™s no clause in my favour and no clause in the clubâ€™s favour through 2019 about my role in 2020.
Tino came to us as an edge player but we may see a bit of him in the ruck in the early stage of his career. Iâ€™ve been impressed with him. Iâ€™m quite confident that heâ€™ll get an opportunity in our first grade team this year.
I also like the way Tom Eisenhuth is coming along. He came to us halfway through last year to improve our stocks in the forward pack. Tom finished the season in reserve grade and developed a solid understanding of the way we go about our game and our system in attack and defence.
Heâ€™s shaping up as quite a valuable player. He can play ruck, backrow and at a pinch you could stick him in the centres. He has real utility value and he has excellent game awareness.
Heâ€™s another one I reckon weâ€™ll see up in first grade this year.
Itâ€™s an exciting time approaching a new season with a new-look squad. You can work on your combinations all you like in training, but itâ€™s during the season where they have to stand up.
For us, it all starts now. I canâ€™t wait to get started.