Cameron King's return to regular NRL action was one of the feel-good stories of 2017 and now, on the eve of a new Telstra Premiership season, the Parramatta Eels rake has praised coach Brad Arthur for helping him rediscover his self-belief.
King seemed destined for big things after a glittering junior career that included captaining the Australian Schoolboys and making his first-grade debut for the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2010 as an 18-year-old.
An avalanche of shoulder, knee, thumb and pectoral injuries confined him to just 21 games in six seasons. He endured a 733-day wait between his last game for the North Queensland Cowboys in 2015 and his Eels debut in 2017.
But after injuries to Isaac De Gois and Kaysa Pritchard, King finally got his chance last year and grabbed it with both hands. So well has he performed that he has now edged ahead of Pritchard in the race to start this season in the blue and gold No.9 jersey.
"It's been nice [to stay injury-free for a change], I'm feeling a lot more confident now as a person and as a footballer," King told NRL.com.
"Brad's helped me believe in myself again as a footy player and that's helped me be a lot more calm around the place."
King finds home at Eels
King said he had stayed positive while serving a long apprenticeship at the Wentworthville Magpies but was more confident after a run of games in first grade.
"I'm a pretty positive guy anyway so I'm always in a pretty good place but coming off the back end of last year, being able to do what I was able to do was good for the confidence leading into pre-season," he said.
"The way we went out [bundled out of the finals in straight sets] gave me a little bit more hunger to train that little bit harder.
"It's been a refreshing pre-season, we've had some new trainers come in with different techniques and styles and I think everyone's bought into that. It's been tough but enjoyable. We've made it to the end pretty unscathed and looking forward to starting the year off."
King started in the club's only trial – an impressive win over Newcastle in Maitland – with Pritchard on the bench.
Arthur did reveal in a recent radio interview on 2SM he favours running with a single 80-minute hooker. King and Pritchard can push out 80 minutes, but it means whoever misses out will be forced to bide their time at the Magpies.
"[Arthur] hasn't said anything. We both played a few minutes [against Newcastle]. I feel like we've worked really well together during the pre-season and helped each other out in different areas and we're pushing each other at training and bringing out the best in each other," King said.
Soward's Say: Eels in 2018
Asked if last season's performances had given him the confidence that if he does get the nod he is up to the task, King added: "Coming off the back end of last year, I was feeling pretty confident coming into the pre-season.
"Everyone was pretty disappointed with how we finished. I think it's fair to say everyone's trained that little bit harder than we probably needed to. If we get off to a good start that'd be nice but if we stay calm and stick to what we've practised in the pre-season I think we'll be right.
"We did speak about the way we bowed out, we spoke about that at the start of the pre-season. We were pretty quick to flush it and move on. We learned a good lesson.
"We're at a stage now as a club where close enough is not good enough, we set high standards around the place with our training and work ethic. Obviously, top four would be nice again this year but we're looking to go a few games better.
"We've got the team here and the depth, we feel if we play our best footy we're going to match it with anyone."