Finally breaking through to the NRL was just the beginning for Nathan Ross – and 2016 is the year in which “Ross Dog” hopes to be unleashed.
After earning his first full-time NRL contract last week, Ross will no longer have to balance his rugby league aspirations with the daily grind of fulltime work off the field while looking after his family.
“It’s good knowing I can just focus on football, and every morning I can wake up and I can just finally give it 100 per cent of my attention,” Ross declared. “I’m hoping…. well, I will be stepping it up another level next year. The main goal is to make myself a week-in, week-out NRL player.
“To start Round 1, that’s my first goal. Then, just baby steps from there. Hopefully I’ll be considered a top-flight winger so when people talk about Newcastle as a team, they might be talking about Nathan Ross rather than just Nathan Ross the fringe player.”
Despite the challenging workload in 2015, the 27-year-old was still able to achieve his life-long goal and made his NRL debut in Round 21, playing in the Knights’ final six games of the season.
“I summarise it as lucky but when I say lucky, you create your own luck,” Ross said.
“The harder you work, the luckier you get – It’s a saying I like to live by. It was good to know that all the hard work, all the places I had played and people I met, all came together and it was good to represent my family, Newcastle as a town and Newcastle as a team.
“It was extremely difficult (balancing work and footy). I got through a lot more on natural ability than actual preparation. I’m only just now, actually learning to understand football and why certain things are done at certain times.”
Ross’s long-awaited NRL debut came after a stellar period of time in the VB NSW Cup, when he was awarded the Knights’ 2014 NSW Cup Player of the Year – and he didn’t disappoint.
Ross scored two tries in a string of impressive performances, while providing his trademark energy and enthusiasm for the Knights during an otherwise tough wooden-spoon finish. (See what made him such an entertainer in the VB NSW Cup in the video above.)
And it’s just as well Ross will be solely focused on footy and a demanding preseason under new head coach Nathan Brown who is motivated to steer the Knights to a strong opening.
“Nathan expects a certain level of us at training and of us as footballers,” Ross said.
“If we’re not reaching that standard on the football paddock – one thing he does – it doesn’t matter if you’re the no.1 jersey on the most money or you’re part time and no.27, he treats everyone exactly the same and expects that same standard from everyone.
“That’s a good thing in having consistency, and once you’re off the training paddock he talks about every facet of life and he’s there. He wears both hats well.”
While the Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers expressed interest in the spirited performer, Ross couldn’t resist the urge to stay and settle down in Newcastle with his one-year-old son, Ziah.
“In the end with Ziah being in Newcastle, there was no reason for me to leave,” Ross said. “Newcastle wanted to keep me and that’s where I wanted to stay. It was a no-brainer.
“The way Newcastle is a one-team town and when everything is going well, the whole town is behind you. But the good thing is when things aren’t going well, we’re still gathering support. Hopefully the fans will keep turning out week-in, week-out if we do our job.
“I just love the vibe of Newcastle – it’s God’s country if you ask me.”