De Belin to put his head down in 2013

RUGBY LEAGUE

An earlier bedtime hardly sounds like a full-scale tonic for a 188-centimetre, 107-kilogram forward, but Jack de Belin reckons it could be the key to strengthening his NRL standing.

De Belin was ushered in and out of the Dragons first-grade squad during his first full season - the result of what coach Steve Price termed taking "a little bit of pain" with younger players.

But the affable Cootamundra junior is confident of changing his fortunes in 2013, after ditching his casual lifestyle in favour of a more meticulous approach.

"The second year I've kind of understood that you have to put a lot more in outside of football," de Belin said.

"So I've been going to bed a lot earlier, getting in a good routine and getting up earlier, and just not doing as much stupid stuff as I was.

"For me it was more so because I was still living in the 20s lifestyle and just doing what I wanted: getting out of bed late, hanging out with my mates all the time."

It was Price who, according to de Belin, helped to implement the changes at the back-end of the 2012 season, when he played "some of my best football".

Life has also been made easier for the 2011 Toyota Cup player of the year by virtue of his Wollongong housemates, rookie Dragons halves Todd Ryan and Josh Drinkwater, also heeding Price's advice.

"Pricey is really big on that," de Belin said.

"He was into me about it pretty much all of last year. He knew that I could have been playing a lot better but the things outside of footy were holding me back.

"Towards the end of the year, what's when I [started] playing better footy. When I finally understood and valuable and important all that off-field stuff was."

As part of his overhaul, de Belin said he had managed to maintain more physical size.

At the request of former coach Wayne Bennett in 2011, the destructive ball-runner piled on 9kg in a matter of months in order to make the cut for first grade.

Twenty-two first grade games later, and de Belin believes he has found the best balance of size and fitness.

"The rigours of first grade are pretty demanding," he said.

"I've gotten a lot fitter. Last year I was at the back during the pre-season and I was struggling a lot.

"This year I can hold my weight a lot more. I put it all on last year and this year I'm just maintaining it.

"So I've been able to keep up the training a lot more easily and stay on top of things a bit more."

With Trent Merrin poised to succeed the retired Dean Young as the Dragons' primary lock in 2013, de Belin said his exact posting in the new season still remained up in the air. But wherever it is, the 21-year-old is confident the right foundations are now in place.

"The pre-season's been really good. I've enjoyed it a lot more, just being my second year, and I've found it a lot easier," de Belin said.

"A lot of boys are putting their hands up, especially at training already. That's just got me more dedicated and on a path to hopefully landing one of those positions next year.

"You'd have to think that the regulars like Michael Weyman, Dan Hunt and Trent Merrin would have their spots cemented, but hopefully every spot's still up for contention and based on how training and the trials go."

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