St George Illawarra Dragons recruit Darren Nicholls is no stranger to a new beginning.
Having plied his trade at the Wests Tigers before seasons spent back-and-forth at the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Brisbane Broncos, Nicholls arrives at the Dragons following a prosperous 2017 season with the Penrith Panthers.
Earning the honours in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider before leading Penrith to NRL State Championship success a week later, the 28-year-old journeyman insists a fresh start at the Dragons has boosted his hopes of a long-awaited NRL debut.
And though still residing in the Sydney metropolitan area, the crafty halfback says the distance from the club’s training base in Wollongong has helped – not hindered – his cause in getting to know his new teammates.
“We’ve got a little bus, there’s plenty of banter on the way down – some trips in the afternoon are a bit quieter after a fitness session – but the morning trips are usually pretty pumping, we get the tunes cranking,” Nicholls tells NSWRL.com.au.
“It’s definitely helped with getting to know a few of the boys, but the whole squad is pretty tight. We’re always grabbing coffees and spending time with each other away from the training ground.
“It’s been a good move for me so far, I’m just looking ahead to the first trial this weekend. I’m not getting ahead of myself just yet. I’m just looking to do my best, to do what I do well.”
Awarded the NSWRL Chairman’s Medal (Intrust Super Premiership NSW Grand Final Man of the Match) following the Panthers’ historic 20-12 win over the Wyong Roos last September, Nicholls is now gearing up for his first outing in the Red V – a trial match versus Super League outfit Hull FC at ANZ Stadium at the weekend.
Nicholls will share the playmaking duties with club captain Gareth Widdop and fellow 2018 recruit, Ben Hunt – a man he says he knows well, having crafted his game alongside the now-Origin representative at the Broncos in the 2014 and 2016 seasons.
“We’re all really looking forward to the game. I caught a glimpse of [Hull FC’s] match last week (versus Wigan at WIN Stadium), and we’ve done a promo with a few of their lads, hopefully everyone plays well,” Nicholls says.
“Benny’s great, I’ve known him for a while. He’s a similar style player to myself, in that halfback role … we obviously spend a lot of time working on our games together, and sharing plenty of laughs.”
The hit-out with Hull will give Nicholls an indication as to where he sits in the Dragons’ ranks, much alike the “honest” conversations he had with coach Paul McGregor upon his arrival at the club last November.
“Those conversations [with McGregor] were more about what our expectations were of each other and at the club, goals, what my strengths were and where I thought the team could improve,” Nicholls says.
“He said that if you’re playing well in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, and there’s an opportunity, you’ll get your go in the NRL.”