Coming off the best effort of his young three-game NRL career, exciting Bulldogs Intrust Super Premiership NSW graduate Brad Abbey can now admit he may have let he nerves get to him in his opening two games.
The Warriors junior has also spoken of how the family-oriented nature of the Belmore club – which brought both him and his brothers across the Tasman – made it a logical choice for his development.
"I think the first couple of games I was a bit nervous and nerves took over me," Abbey told NRL.com.
"Just getting a few games under my belt is helping me out a lot."
Last Thursday was a big step up from his first two games – a narrow win over the Warriors in Dunedin in his debut and a horror loss to Manly at Lottoland a fortnight ago – in which he produced four missed tackles and four errors in two games.
Abbey's third NRL game – a gritty and morale-boosting 10-7 win over Brisbane – saw him respond strongly after being caught out of position for Brisbane's opening try.
The rest of the game saw him prove safe under the high ball (for six kicks defused), produce some strong carries on his way to 157 metres and four tackle busts, and support to score a vital try.
"It was an awesome feeling getting over the white line!" he laughed of his maiden NRL try.
"It's been a huge transition coming from 20s to Cup and first grade. It's a big step up, I'm enjoying being there and hopefully I can secure a spot there and stay there."
Abbey got his chance via an injury to fullback Will Hopoate, who will return from a fractured eye socket in the next couple of weeks. Abbey hopes he will have done enough to hold a spot in the top grade, whether that sees Hopoate shifted elsewhere in the backline or himself moved elsewhere in the 17.
"Hopefully I won't [get moved back to the Intrust Super Premiership when Hopoate returns]; I'm hoping I could prove myself and try to stay there," Abbey said.
"If it does happen that I go back down I'm not going to stop playing hard - I'd want to keep fighting so I can get back up and not just get back up because of an injury. I want to try and cement a spot for myself."
Not that Abbey sees himself in direct competition with the two senior fullback options at the club, Hopoate and Brett Morris, each of whom he said have helped him immensely.
"Brett Morris and Hopoate are fullbacks and they've been in the game a long time. They've been sharing their knowledge which has been very helpful," Abbey said.
"I hope it's growing my game. I'm just glad I have players like that that I've idolised in my team. It's such a surreal experience, they're some of my idols and I've been watching them on TV and then growing up and now playing with them is awesome."
Abbey is in his second year at Belmore after three years in the Warriors junior system but it's not just him – the Bulldogs also brought his younger brothers across.
While 17-year-old Damon has since moved back to New Zealand, 14-year-old Keenan is in the Bulldogs Harold Matthews system.
"The Dogs flew me over to have a look at the club and I loved what I saw and what they could do for me so I made the move over. It wasn't an easy decision but I think it was the best one for me and my family," Abbey said.
"At first I moved over with my partner, it was good having some support from someone and not just coming over by myself then eventually the rest of my family moved over too.
"The Dogs didn't just look after me, they looked after my brothers too and they got put into the development system over here too.
"I've always felt so comfortable and welcomed into the club like they're my own family."