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As the older and wiser version of David Klemmer lines up for career game No.200 on Monday, he will pause for a moment to remember the tearaway teenager who arrived on the scene in 2013 with a head full of dreams and surrounded by men who could ensure they came true.

Just 19 when he was handed a debut by Des Hasler in a Bulldogs side bristling with power and potential, Klemmer proved a fast learner under the tutelage of Aiden Tolman, Frank Pritchard and Michael Ennis, all happy to show him that you can teach a new Dog old tricks.

For a young bloke with designs on making a living in the engine room, rugby league educations don’t come much better, but it’s off the field where Klemmer says the most valuable life lessons were learned.

“My first ever induction into full-time footy at Canterbury, I came in injured and overweight and I had no idea what full-time football was,” Klemmer told ahead of the Tigers' clash with the Eels.

“[Bulldogs trainers] Tony Grimaldi and Harry Harris got their hands on me and I had to double days, train in the morning and afternoon, as well as extras.

“My first ever pre-season scarred me and I made sure every season after that I was coming back to the club in good nick.

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“In my second season I was only playing 20-40 minutes a game so I had to do top-ups. The boys had Mondays off but I’d be in there at the club working on getting fitter.

“I have carried that throughout my career – you have to know your body and what you need to do to stay at a certain level.

“Lobby [Grimaldi] was the main one making sure I ate the right things and did the right things and I’ve carried that ever since. I can’t thank him enough.”

With mentors like Grimaldi, Hasler, Tolman and James Graham in his corner in 2014, Klemmer played 23 matches as Canterbury soared from seventh at the end of the regular season all the way to the grand final, disposing of the Storm, Sea Eagles and Panthers to make the big dance.

The emotional run would end at the hands of the Rabbitohs in a demoralising 30-6 loss in the decider, but the young pup from Belmore had done enough to earn himself a Test jersey for the Four Nations tournament.

Continuing on his steep learning curve, Klemmer made his green and gold debut against England a month later, savouring a 16-12 victory at AAMI Park under the captaincy of Cameron Smith and coaching of Tim Sheens.

“I got thrown in pretty young in the Test side and I was playing with Greg Inglis and Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk and I got to pick their brains,” Klemmer said.

“As a fan I had watched them dominate NSW in Origin and watched the careers they had and now I was playing alongside them.

“I went on to play at some amazing places and win a World Cup with those guys [in 2017] and it was all part of a great journey.”

After six seasons at Canterbury and four at Newcastle, the 29-year-old arrived at Concord in 2023 determined to guide the likes of Stefano Utoikamanu and Fonua Pole on their path, just as others had done for him along the road to 200 games.

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“These guys here are learning what it’s like to be a full-time first grader and if I can give a helping hand, that’s what I’ll do,” Klemmer said.

“The fire is still burning and I still feel like I’ve got a lot to offer. The boys know what they are going to get out of me at training and playing and in life as well.

“I’m still competing in games and getting amongst it.

“I always made a promise to myself that the day I wake up and think ‘this is a chore’ I’ll be honest with myself and say that’s it, but I love it too much and someone will have to get me in a chokehold to get me out of here.”

Speaking of manoeuvres more common in WWE than the NRL, Klemmer admits that had his team been in the midst of a horror losing streak six or seven years ago, he’d have handled things very differently than he is today with the Tigers at 0-5.

Having been in the fight in all four of their matches prior to last weekend’s blowout in Brisbane, Klemmer believes the season can be turned around, possibly as early as Monday against the Eels.

“If this happened a few years ago I’d be trying to do it all myself to get us out of it and that caused a lot of harm to my game,” he said.

I’d swing an arm or lose my head in the game, but my development now is to try and be a cool head and be a better leader.

Wests Tigers forward David Klemmer

“The boys know what they are going to get from me. They know they can ask me questions and I’ll never say no.

“Back at the Bulldogs I had Jimmy Graham and Tols [Tolman] and they sorted me out real quick and it was a great apprenticeship for me.

“I probably never said it to them but I couldn’t be more thankful for what they did and I want to play a similar role for the boys here.

“It’s the cycle of life.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Wests Tigers respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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