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 NRLsquads 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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Esan Marsters is under no illusion of what lies ahead of him in pre-season.
One of seven Wests Tigers players to make the transition from Holden Cup to the extended full-time NRL squad in 2017, the quietly spoken 20-year-old says he knows that this year counts more than any other year so far in his short but successful career.
So much so that while many were enjoying their off-season break, Marsters — who played with Wests Tigers Holden Cup side through to the Elimination Finals — was training away, twice or more a week, to get himself ready for a gruelling pre-season.
Not so he would be better than anyone else, necessarily.
Just so he would be ready.
“It feels good to almost be back into it completely,” he said ahead of Monday’s return.
“I did a bit of training in the off-season and it’s helped me get back in and find my feet.
“It was in the back of mind the whole time in the break that I was going into the NRL squad, so I really wanted to train hard in the off-season and come back in here strong.
“I have no idea how tough it’ll be to earn my stripes in my position,” he conceded. “You can’t know until you’re there, but I’m expecting it to be really difficult.”
“But at the same time, it’s exciting to be able to prove yourself against the best. All I’m trying to do is learn from all the older players and make my way through the ranks.”
On the surface, many would see Marsters’ 2016 season as a success — debuting for the Junior Kiwis in May and establishing himself as one of the most dangerous young forwards around with 10 tries, 14 linebreaks and seven try-assists in 17 games.
Averaging over 125 metres per game for the year, Marsters also spent time in the Club’s Intrust Super Premiership side as he prepared for his transition to the extended NRL squad in 2017, but said he knows his game still requires plenty of improvements.
“I was pretty happy with how the year started,” he said, “but I wasn’t happy with how I finished, so I just want to come into the NRL squad feeling strong and earn my stripes.
“I think I’m in a good place in my head of what I need to do to help that happen.
“I definitely want to take my footy to the next level. That’s the focus for this year, and I’m really looking to learn off the older players and the coaching staff to help me do that.”
In particular, Marsters says he’s looking to two players at very different ends of the spectrum in terms of their rugby league careers — Chris Lawrence and Josh Aloiai.
“I guess you always look to the senior players in your position for an example, and I think Chris Lawrence is the perfect example of someone who does it all and just keeps producing what the team needs every single week,” he said.
“You see the professionalism they have in what he does, and the desire to keep improving, which is something I really want to have in my game next season.
“I think one of the younger guys too, Josh Aloiai, is someone I look to.
“He played first-grade all of last season in his first year out of the U/20’s program and that’s the goal for me, so I want to learn off him and see how he could achieve that.
“Given I’m making that transition out of the U/20’s and into the extended NRL squad, Josh has been there and done that and also had a similar past to me in playing Junior Kiwis, so I’m looking forward to learning off him and the experienced players here.”
“I think the biggest thing that I see in them is the effort that’s required in the NRL.
“You can’t back off at any time — not just in the games but also during the week as well.
“The effort they have, and the continued efforts, is the main thing that stands out to me. All the guys here train really well and are professional in what they do — whether it’s just doing the running sessions or the opposed contact. You see they make everything count, and that’s where I want to get to with being consistent in my actions this year.”
MAKING THE LEAP SERIES