"It was a bit of a pressure cooker".
Cast back to 2008 and Trent Barrett is sitting down for coffee at the Sharkies Leagues Club, explaining why he chose Cronulla over a return to St George Illawarra.
Barrett, who still lives at Barrack Point, is arguably the most talented Steelers product ever, but endured the heartbreak of 1999 grand final and 2005 and 2006 preliminary final losses with the Dragons.
Following two years with Wigan in England, Barrett decided to join the Sharks, even after discussing playing in the Red V again under Wayne Bennett.
"I spoke to Wayne on the phone and it was something I really thought about and it was a tough decision not to go back there," Barrett told the Mercury at the time.
"I probably would have gone back there for the wrong reasons. I probably would have been going there more for my mates and my old team-mates than for my own reasons."
Barrett's last year in the NRL was in 2010, completing a 235-game first grade career.
Of those he played 45 for the Steelers, 154 for the Dragons and 36 for the Sharks, after making his debut in 1996.
The Sharks failed to make the finals the year the Dragons finally broke through for a premiership.
"They'll be much better equipped to handle that than what we went through at the Dragons," Barrett said after landing at Cronulla in 2008 - and he was right.
"It was a bit of a pressure cooker."
While Barrett took a new path, Dragons teammate Mark Gasnier returned from a stint with French rugby union to play in the fairytale 2010 premiership.
Fast forward to 2021 and Barrett has another second chance, this time in his coaching career with Canterbury. His time at Manly ended contentiously amid gardening leave and concerns over training facilities.
But after being an assistant to Ivan Cleary in Penrith's run to last year's grand final, Barrett is now rebuilding the Bulldogs, who meet the club he built his career at in a curious round nine fixture at Kogarah on Sunday.
The Bulldogs only victory this year has come against the Sharks, but Barrett has made some significant strides on the recruitment front, with Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton and Brent Naden on board for next year.
In contrast, St George Illawarra's bright start to the season has been discoloured by losses to the Warriors, Roosters and Wests Tigers.
It lends itself to a barstool and kitchen table discussion, which club will win a premiership - or at least be a genuine contender - sooner?
The conventional wisdom suggests St George Illawarra is the answer.
New coach Anthony Griffin has chipped away at the edges of the salary cup, finding value for money with Andrew McCullough and Josh McGuire. But the old doubts among Dragons fans creep in, particularly after a miserable second half against the Tigers at WIN Stadium.
From his time at the Dragons, Barrett's words in 2008 could provide an insight into how he is handling coaching at the bottom-ranked Bulldogs this year.
"I think before I used to worry about a lot of things and think that everything that went wrong revolved around me," he said then.
"I was captain of the (Dragons) side, but I think that was wrong to do, you can't put that much pressure on yourself."