From the moment he burst onto the Holden Cup scene as an 18-year-old, Matt Dufty has been viewed as a future star of rugby league.
And when he scored one try and set up another two during his NRL debut last year, it seemed Dufty was destined to live up to the hype.
However, after a promising start to 2018, Dufty’s performances of late have reflected that of the Dragons.
Heading into the final weeks of his first full season in the NRL, the 22-year-old concedes it has been far more draining than he could have anticipated.
“Yes definitely [it’s been tough],” Dufty said. “I only came in at the back end of last year and I was running on heaps of adrenaline, my body was feeling good, and it was the same at the start of the year.
“The grind, it’s pretty full on. But it shows you the importance of the recovery you’ve got to do. It’s not just physically, but mentally, you’ve just got to learn to step away from footy when you’ve been given a few days off.
“It’s a big thing that the coaching staff tell us. It’s pretty hard to be footy all the time, it’s good to step away and spend time with friends, family and all the people who aren’t going to judge you for playing footy.”
Having learnt the importance of refocusing mentally each week, and with the most exciting aspect of the NRL season just weeks away, Dufty is feeling refreshed and ready to lift the Dragons out of their current form slump.
“I think for me that mental adjustment was the biggest thing to get used to. I was always ‘Footy, footy, footy,’ but now I cherish the little breaks you get during the week, so you can come in with your head screwed on and you can give 100 per cent. For me personally, my body’s feeling pretty good, and I’m keen to rip in for the end of the year.”
While learning about the importance of recovery and refreshing the mind, Dufty has also found the gaps which appeared earlier in the season have suddenly been slammed shut. The footwork that he used to burst past defenders is now being met by a solid wall of opposition jumpers.
Defenders now know what to expect when Dufty has the ball in his hands and he knows the onus is on him to develop the extra tools required to keep opposition players guessing when he runs towards them. It’s a challenge he’s excited to embark on.
“Yes I’ve noticed teams have adjusted, but that’s what footy teams do, they watch video, they game plan, we’re the same. Teams have pretty much adapted to the style of footy I play, which puts it back on me to try and change things up a bit coming into the finals. I think that’s a good challenge to have.
“I think I can ball play and support a bit more, little things like that. It’s not so much changing my game, I think it’s more adding things to your game.”
The next opportunity for Dufty to show off his added versatility comes on Saturday night against the Tigers. While he doesn’t anticipate his style of play will change in Gareth Widdop’s absence, he is expecting the team to deliver a much-improved performance.
“Yes definitely, we know the quality of the squad we have. We’ve been in a bit of a hole lately, but it’s easy to turn it around.
“All the boys are pretty keen to prove everyone wrong and win the last three and finish in the top four.”