Latest Dragon 'muscle' set to deliver on potential

RUGBY LEAGUE

St George Illawarra's newly-hired muscle Joel Thompson had pretty much made up his mind - it was going to be the Dragons over the Raiders.

That last little bit of confirmation? He knew exactly where to go to get it.

"He was one of the influences, but I had my mind made up and he just told me a few things about the place," Thompson said of now retired Dragon and former teammate Josh Miller.

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"He put no pressure on me at all, but having a friendly face like his and coming from the same school and all around the same area is good.

"He's a champion bloke and I pop in and see him every now and again. Whatever he does he puts in 110 per cent."

Thompson is five years Miller's junior and has been treading his Red Bend schoolmate's well-worn path ever since.

From their old days at the renowned boarding school at Forbes, to the nation's capital and now to the beachside surroundings at Wollongong, Thompson's career progression has a familiar feel about it.

The similarities don't stop there either. Both have forged a reputation as ferocious forwards, Miller so much so he was forced to cut short his career in 2012 after a string of head knocks.

Maybe that's where Thompson would like the similarities to end. He hasn't been immune to the injury curse either, which he says holds the key to launching a bid to add to his two Indigenous All-Stars and one Country representative jumper.

"Over the years I've had niggling injuries here and there," Thompson said. "I just want to stay injury free and start the year playing my best and hopefully rep footy will come along the way.

"I know I've got some potential I didn't really fulfil [at the Raiders] with different injuries and other things, but I just want to make sure I start off well with the Dragons and take it from there.

"The plans going forward are good and it appealed to me to be a part of that [at the Dragons]. They've got some good players coming through who are young guys and we've put in the work and now we need to do it on the paddock."

Thompson started pre-season training away from his then heavily pregnant wife Amy, who gave birth to their daughter Imogen in late November.

He's immersed himself in a community course at TAFE, with plans to continue his work with indigenous youth he started in Canberra at his new home.

"Hopefully down the track I can run a few similar programs in the community [here] as well," he said. "I've always had a passion for it.

"Even when I was 18 and 19 I always went to juvenile justice and worked with different youth and it's something I enjoy."

Meanwhile, some of the Dragons' big guns spread their wings south during the NRL's Community Carnival yesterday.

International wingers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale headed south to spread the anti-bullying message at almost 20 schools.

They were joined by new recruits Matt Groat and Willie Mataka at Pambula Beach Sporting Complex, before visiting several schools on the Far South Coast.

"All the kids have been really receptive to the messages and it's a good way to rest the body for a couple of days while we're away from training," Nightingale said.

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