ST GEORGE Illawarra hooker Cameron McInnes said a desire to repay the faith shown in him by the club and coach Paul McGregor was behind his decision to ink a three-year contract extension.
The deal will keep McInnes at the Dragons until the end of 2021 and comes on the back of a solid debut season with the club in which he missed just seven minutes of action.
It was a distinct change from his first three seasons in the NRL in which he played as an understudy to Isaac Luke and shared dummy-half duties with Damien Cook.
The 23-year-old said McGregor’s belief in him as an 80-minute man prompted him to commit to the club long-term.
“With Mary and Basil [Ian Millward] showing that faith in me to get me over here, I wasn’t going to leave,” McInnes said.
“I wanted to be loyal and I want to repay that faith so I’m so happy to be at the club for another three years on top of .
“The new signings are going to be great for us and we have a really great culture here. I came over last preseason and the boys were so welcoming and I just love coming to training every day.
“We didn’t finish [last] season the way we wanted to but the way we played throughout the season was so addictive and I wanted to be here.
“I didn’t want to be anywhere else and, with the team we have going forward, it’s an exciting time to be a Dragons player and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
McInnes forced himself into the NSW Origin selection debate with his early-season form, something he puts down to a fresh approach under McGregor.
“Mary keeps it simple for me which I enjoy,” McInnes said.
“He just tells me to relax and play what’s in front of me when I’m in that hooker position. The simpler my focus is the better I play.
“He's been very supportive and has always had all the confidence in me which makes me confident as well.
“I don’t think Souths held me back at all, it was myself holding me back. Whether I was overthinking things I’m not sure but coming to the Dragons and getting a fresh start and a new perspective is what’s really sparked me.
“That’s why I’m so grateful to the club for giving me that opportunity to really enjoy my footy and start to reach my potential. I know I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot more good footy in me.”
Ben Hunt will arrive on a mammoth six-year deal in 2018 while skipper Gareth Widdop is also locked down for the next four seasons.
The McInnes deal will give McGregor – who himself inked a two-year extension in June – unprecedented stability in his spine, a welcome change from the contract talks that destabilised his previous two campaigns.
McInnes, who proposed to fiance Rachel at Sublime Point earlier this year, welcomed the certainty on and off the field.
“We’ve moved down to Shell Cove and we love it down here, every day’s like a holiday,” he said.
“I wanted to have this sorted before footy came around next year because I didn’t want anything taking my focus away.
“There’s a lot of key people in the club signed long-term which is good for the club because there’s that stability.
“We can all all dig in now and work hard towards a common goal and it’s great to have that collective focus.”