It’s not the easiest transition to make.
Every year, the country’s most brightest and promising rugby league talent look to make the step up from the U/20’s Holden Cup program to full-time training and extended NRL squads in the hope of becoming one of first-grade stars they looked up to as a kid.
In 2017, seven Wests Tigers players will look to make that leap.
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He might have spent most of pre-season in rehab, and the second half of the year recovering from more surgery, but Bayley Sironen says he’s learned a lot in the last 12 months that will only help him in the long run of his NRL career.
And for that, he credits three teammates in particular and, strangely, his injuries.
Sidelined for the start of pre-season training last season as he recovered from a serious shoulder injury, the Holy Cross Rhinos junior found himself training alongside Matt Ballin and Aaron Woods (both in the rehabilitation group for different knee injuries).
That group would be the start of a year of learning for Sironen.
“It was all about watching and learning for me,” he said of his approach to pre-season.
“Being around guys like Aaron Woods and Matt Ballin, they’re just the ultimate professionals in what they do and how they approach the work they’ve got to do.
“I think Woodsy joined the rest of the squad not long after so it was just me and Matt for a while — I learned a lot away from the game from that time. Just being around them during the week and seeing the consistency, I learned a lot about myself and what I can do to improve for the coaching staff and be different to the other guys in my position.
When he did finally get on the field late in January, the left-edge forward said it was a one of the Club’s most consistent forward, Chris Lawrence, who he also learned from.
“Chrissy was also really helpful, just in the little in’s and out’s of the back row,” he said.
“Even though he’s only been there a short time, I think he had a massive year and showed some real strengths. I guess he’s been really key in helping me move to the back row from five-eighth, and ways you can help yourself adapt well in that change.
“I didn’t get games that I wanted during the year, but I definitely learned a lot and came a long way in that regard, so I’m really appreciative to everyone here.
“I had a lot of good people around me. The coaching staff really helped me to get back into the groove of things. I guess the good thing for me is that I’ve been through a few injuries and rehab before so I know how to come out of it, and I felt like I settled really well. Hopefully I can do the same again this year and get a full season under my belt.”
Despite joining the full-time squad for the 2016 season, Sironen will formally graduate the Club’s Holden Cup program this year — turning 21 two days before Christmas.
With a number of junior representative achievements including Australian Schoolboys, NSW U/16’s and NSW U/20’s (where he was named the State Player of the Year), Sironen’s ability and talents at a junior level have clearly been evident.
Not that he’ll hang his hat on any of that, though.
“It’s nice to have all of that in my career, but I know, it’s only just the start,” he reflected.
“My main focus now is on getting my body right and trying to get back for pre-season this year, and if I do that, I’ll give myself the best possible chance to show the coaches what I can do and if I can prove myself to be at that level of a first-grade player.
“I’m confident that if I can get a good pre-season in, I’ll be able to put my best foot forward on the field and really show what I can do, which I haven’t been able to do yet.
“I know my ability.
“I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t want a first-grade debut or think I can’t get it — I just want to give myself as good a chance as possible to crack that side come Round 1, and if not, I’ll just keep plugging away each week to get better and improve.
“That’s how I’m approaching it. Like I said, hopefully this is only the start of it all.”
Perhaps his biggest learning experience this year, however, has been off the field as he juggles the expectations around him given his junior success and family history.
Which, with the surname Sironen, can’t be easy for a 20-year-old.
But rather than be overburdened by the weight of expectation, Bayley says it’s something he’s learned to embrace and uses it to spur him on more and more.
“You get used to it,” he said in regards to the expectations.
“It’s amusing when people say that I only make teams because of my old man or brother. I just sort of let my footy do the talking and don’t look into what they’re saying at all.
“I’m very privileged to have my old man play the game and have the career that he did, and then to see my brother come through and play the NRL as well.
“I’ve always followed Curtis in my own journey — he was a five-eighth who moved into the back row and now I’ve moved into the back row and am following him again, so I’m probably not helping myself too much with the comparison talk,” he laughed.
“But to me, it’s not at all a negative thing that worries me. To me, I think it gives me the best chance to learn from him and my Dad and to grow from what they’ve done.”
So while Sironen might find himself physically in a similar spot to he was 12 months ago — in rehab, desperate to get back for pre-season training — the 20-year-old knows he’s much better equipped to hit the ground running as soon as he can.
“I’m actually a bit ahead of schedule now so they’re trying to hold me back a little, but I’m just that excited to get back into it,” he said.
“Last year, I don’t think I started training until January or February, and I really missed that first couple of months of pre-season training to get some k's into the legs and to put some muscle on and weight in the gym. I should be pretty much right to go for Day 1 this time around though, so that’ll put me in good stead for this year.
“I’m probably looking to put a little bit more weight on — that’s the first thing.
“If I can do that, then I can add a bit more power and punch into my running game and I can start hitting better in defence as well. But really, I’m just coming into this looking to pick up all the little things that you do in pre-season.
“Anything I can do to grow my game, I’m keen to try and take on.”
MAKING THE LEAP SERIES