DRAGONS forward Jack de Belin insists he doesn’t feel all that different, but his teammates and coaches have all noticed some subtle changes in the man known as ‘Bomber’ since he marched into preseason training in October.
For one, the top knot was gone, but it was more the steel in his eyes and the punishment he was willing to endure on the training paddock. Seven weeks into the season, it’s in the vigour with which he leads the team victory song, having been made custodian of the tune by retiring club great Ben Creagh last season.
Currently averaging 134 running metres and 33 tackles a game, the 26-year-old is also mounting a compelling case to succeed Paul Gallen in the NSW No. 13 jumper this year. At the very least he's in the conversation but, having been tipped for higher honours ever since he debuted as teenager in 2011, de Belin is well aware that there are lot more players ear-marked for rep football than those who actually play it.
“My preseason approach wasn’t all that different, I always pride myself on being a hard trainer and you always know you’re going to get a hundred per cent out of me, but I did really want to build of last year,’ de Belin said.
“It was a good year for me playing some rep footy and being a consistent performer for the Dragons and I just knew it was now or never if I wanted to step up and aspire to those higher rep honours and be a dominant force for the red v.
“At the end of the day I obviously do want to play rep footy but it all starts with your club footy. You can’t just be a good player, you've got to be a great player that stands out in your side.
“You can’t just take a back seat and let the game come to you, you’ve got to take it on head-on.
“That’s how I’ve tried to approach it this year. I know what needs to be done, it’s just a matter of getting it done now.”
De Belin made what many considered a long overdue rep debut for Country last season alongside new club teammate Paul Vaughan, who’s also making a strong case to join incumbent Blues forward Tyson Frizell in the State of Origin arena.
While it hasn’t been a huge topic of discussion within the camp, de Belin said his side are approaching the rep selection season with the same pack mentality that’s served them so well in their red-hot start to 2017.
“If I was to see anyone from the Dragons get that jumper, I’d be just as stoked for them as I would be for myself. That’s the way we are this year,” de Belin said.
“In year’s gone by I’ve always had the feeling we’d have a good year but this year there was a supreme confidence just knowing all the hard work we put in and the team building we’d done.
“We knew that was going to amount to something and, we’ve seen early on, that it has. Without getting ahead of ourselves, a lot of it has been player-driven and coming from the leaders and the culture and the way we’re shaping the club at the moment is a really good thing.
“We’ve totally got each other’s backs and that means a lot when you’re going out and playing in the NRL every week.
“I’ve been around a while now and it’s a long time since we’ve had this sort of swagger the way we’re bouncing off one another.
“It’s an unreal feeling knowing that every game we’re going to be turning up for each other.”