Dragons hooker and reigning Canterbury Cup player of the year Billy Brittain says players like himself on the cusp of NRL squads will need to treat gym and training sessions like they were NRL games to keep themselves in the selection frame.
The 25-year-old was in limbo after being let go by Souths last year. Things turned around rapidly when he was offered a four week train-and-trial deal by the Dragons, only to impress them enough to earn an upgrade to the top 30 squad.
He played the first two rounds of the NRL season off the bench following an injury to Cam McInnes.
Then the global coronavirus pandemic shut down sporting competitions worldwide and even if the NRL is able to resume as planned on May 28, Brittain will be back behind McInnes and Issac Luke – with no second-tier competition to press his claims.
Despite the uncertainty, Brittain was hugely positive about his position when speaking to NRL.com compared to where he was a few short months ago.
"It's been a pretty crazy ride," he said.
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"I was just starting to find my feet at the club then it all got taken away from me, but I was very fortunate to even get a train and trial.
"It was good to get those two games in, coming from where I was at in terms of not having a club to being in a system, I didn't think I'd even be there so to play two games was definitely a surprise.
"In terms of biding my time, it's unfortunate there's probably not going to be any Canterbury Cup this year so a lot of players outside of that 17 that don't play NRL each week will be doing their best to work on their game and if you get called up you have to be ready.
"I guess treat training weeks as if they're your games. You might only get two training session when the season starts so you have to make the most of that and impress the coaches so if you do get called on they're confident in you to be able to play and do your role well.
"There will be a lot of players in that situation where they're one injury away [from a call-up]. You have to stake your claim every day – not just at training but away from it, in the gym, every little thing so when you're called upon you're putting your best foot forward and doing the club and jersey proud."
Brittain said he had been able to get plenty of fitness done despite players not being able to train together at their clubs or leave their homes much.
"The biggest struggle for me has been finding gym equipment, trying to find any type of weights," he said.
"Everyone's been able to stay pretty fit, we're allowed outdoors once a day to get our programs done. I'm feeling pretty healthy."
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The club had dispensed training programs and players add their weights and times to a team WhatsApp group in order to keep the competitive juices flowing.
Despite only making his NRL debut last season at the age of 25, Brittain says he had two late-blooming teammates to look toward if he ever wondered whether his chance would come.
"When I was at Souths last year, I debuted pretty late I guess compared to other players but I looked at Cody Walker and Damien Cook," he said.
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"Although Cookie debuted earlier he didn't really establish himself as a first-grader until he was a bit older. I took a lot of inspiration off those two and if I did think things might have been getting a bit late I only had to look around the locker room last year and there was two prime examples for me to draw inspiration from.
"Talking to Cody [who didn't debut until 26], there wasn't once where he thought 'I can’t do this', it didn't matter how old he was.
"He's an established first-grader now and Cookie is one of the top two hookers in the game so those two careers are something I've taken a lot from in terms of what can happen in my career.
"I don't know what's around the corner. I thought it was it for my footy career until the Dragons happened to it's all been pretty crazy. I'm really thankful. I draw a lot of inspiration from those two guys."