Sharks recruit Joseph Paulo says half a season pushing out 80-minute games for Eels VB NSW Cup side Wentworthville last year has made him both tougher and hungrier ahead of a bright new start in the Shire.
Paulo told NRL.com his departure from the Eels with a year to run on his contract worked out well for both parties, with Parramatta having plenty of young forwards coming through and the US international getting an opportunity at a club that he said is only going to get better after surprising plenty of people in 2015.
Paulo found himself somewhat on the outer under Brad Arthur in 2015 with the emergence of young stars such as Tepai Moeroa, the recruitment of some older heads like Anthony Watmough, and continued development of players like Manu Ma'u.
But the 27-year-old said that time out of first grade will stand him in good stead as he looks to forge a new career in the Sutherland Shire in 2016.
"It definitely tested me last year and it made me better. Everyone goes through challenges and they either make you or break you and I feel like that made me better and it's just going to make me stronger and want it even more," Paulo said.
"It's just about understanding and being grateful for what you have in life. Obviously our goal is to be in the NRL but it's not the end of the world. I've got family, I've got my wife to look after and all this stuff happening around me, so if you have an attitude of gratefulness for what you have then you step into every challenge with a smile on and accept what's ahead and push through," he added.
The one-time five-eighth was called upon to play long minutes and make huge tackle counts in an evolution from the ball-playing back-row style he had originally become known for, meaning he faced both the mental challenge of staying fresh and a physical one in terms of his workload.
"When I was younger I had that background as a five-eighth so that transition of understanding what kind of a player I want to be, what does the team need from me and then obviously just harnessing that and making that better," he said of his evolved playing style.
"For me I came through as a five-eighth trying to ball play all the time but then I needed to obviously balance that role of playing tough when I had to play tough but the coach is always open for me to play to my skills if I see something.
"They definitely don't discourage it [at Cronulla] but there's a time to play that sort of footy and moments to play tough."
Paulo's transition across was made even easier by his background playing alongside a host of fellow former Panthers like Luke Lewis and Wade Graham.
"I played with Jesse [Sene-Lefao] in under-20s, I played with 'Wado' (Graham), we both made our debut the same year. I played with 'Lewy', I'm friends with the Fifita boys [Andrew and David] from around Blacktown area.
"I was probably fortunate to go to a new club where I had friends already. I guess it helps when you're new to a club to have that base but everyone here has been awesome... But it doesn't make it easier when you're trying to fight for each other's spots!"
Paulo was philosophical about his early departure from the Eels, where he played 86 of his 126 career NRL games to date.
"I still had one more year so I think it's just one of those things. Obviously they had a lot of young forwards coming through and being a big junior system there's always players coming through," he said.
"I think Brad wanted to build younger guys which is fine with me – it's just one of those things, it's rugby league. I'm just grateful to Cronulla opening that door and giving me that chance."
Paulo said there was plenty of upside at Cronulla after the side hit back from an 0-4 start to 2015 to finish one win short of a top-four finish.
"They did so well last year. They're a balanced team. They've got the potential of going somewhere. The opportunity to play finals would be great," Paulo said.
"I think Cronulla surprised a lot of teams last year. They surprised me. I feel like it's an unknown factor about the club or the team that people don't really know about them. That's what sort of dragged me to the club, was that unknown factor.
"How did they reach the finals without anyone giving them a chance? There must be a culture here or a belief. Something they're building here that I definitely want to be a part of."
This article first appeared on NRL.com