Drinkwater anxious for Dragons call-up

RUGBY LEAGUE

Remember the expectation that enveloped Josh Drinkwater this time last year?

The boom under-20s graduate was expected to be the Dragons' long-term No 7.

Running rings around part-timers at Helensburgh's Rex Jackson Oval with a full-time St George Illawarra contract in his back pocket wasn't exactly part of that expectation.

"I think it was the kick up the backside I needed, to be honest," he said of his mid-year descent to the Illawarra Coal League.

"I was getting a bit complacent and not playing good footy at all.

"You know yourself when you're not playing good footy and I wasn't. It was good to get back there and get a little bit of confidence and my running game back."

It's easy to forget last pre-season Drinkwater was the one great hope for a club desperate to unearth a ready-made halfback.

But he was limited to just four NRL games as he struggled in his first year with the big boys.

Now suddenly the Central Coast son has a school of No 7s to swim among this pre-season; a fit-again Kyle Stanley, with recruits Sam Williams and Michael Witt also in the mix.

A challenge? Absolutely. But you only need to chat with the 21-year-old for a few minutes to understand he's more at ease in the Red V 12 months on.

"Last year was a really big learning curve for me - that's the way I'm looking at it. I've had that year now so I know what to expect and there will be no excuses this year," he said.

"It's a totally different ball game [under-20s] to be honest. In the 20s it's all about the big play whereas in the NRL it's the little play that's most important.

"It's a lot easier being down here now that I'm settled. I've got a good group of friends. I'm starting to really enjoy it and it feels like home now."

He hasn't given up hope of finding a permanent home at No 7 despite the glut of halves on the Dragons' books.

He's shadowing marquee man Gareth Widdop in training and wants to feed the English international the ball outside of him in round one.

"I'm lucky enough to be partnered up with him and I get to follow him around and pick up on his little tricks," Drinkwater said.

"He's been really good and giving a lot of tips to the boys.

"Gareth is obviously going to play in that six [jumper] and from the rest of us whoever is playing the best footy will get that spot in round one."

Drinkwater and flatmate Jack de Belin hit the phones this week to drum up support for the Red V membership, which soared past 10,000 yesterday.

Dragons officials said the numbers were promising considering memberships went on sale late because of their home ground shift, announced in November.

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