Hi, I’m Curtis Sironen.

It might have taken almost all of my 25 years, but finally I know who I am. I am also determined to make that person the best he can be on and off the field.

Growing up as Paul Sironen’s son was a double-edged sword. Sure, it opened plenty of doors, but it also came with huge expectations. None of those expectations came from my Dad. I am extremely proud of who he is and what he has achieved.

He also casts a pretty big shadow.

My biggest problem going through those impressionable early teens was that almost all of that expectation came from within me. There was a person I thought I had to be.

Now, approaching my 26th birthday, I have the clearest pictures of not only who I am, but how I can be the best I can be.


https://www.instagram.com/p/Bv_VCyfBQVQ/

That realisation, maturity – call it what you like – came via several different events. Part of it was just growing up, but a major injury, being comfortable with my on-field position and a change of clubs all played major roles.

Certainly coming to Manly for the 2017 season was significant. While the comparisons to Dad will always be a part of my life, while I was at the Tigers they would always be more vivid. The same surname, the same club colours. The pressure was always there.

As a junior I felt it. Dad was my coach, but the pressure didn’t come from him. It got to the stage where, as a 13 or 14-year-old, I would prefer the game days when Dad had to take my brother Bayley to another ground and wouldn’t watch me play. I actually preferred him not being there.

There was a lot of anxiety around who I was.

It was a weird feeling, being scared that I would not live up to expectations. My expectations.

Those feelings started to subside when I was in my late teens and starting to make a name for myself. I was 18 when I started to train with the senior squad at the Wests Tigers and there were no issues there. The rest of the squad just treated me like any other player.

Of course, there would always be that person in the crowd who would have something to say. Initially I used to find that hard to deal with, but then not so much during my senior footy.

Midway through 2012, while I was still 18, I debuted in the top grade. Fast forward to 2016 and after a series of injuries, I was playing first grade, but was in a comfort zone. I thought I was better than I was. I got the kick up the bum that I deserved and was dropped from the top team.

One thing led to another and by 2017 I was at Manly. It was the change that I needed. A fresh start, a different culture and the comparisons started to drop off. The change also coincided with a big jump in my maturity.

That first year, 2017, at Manly was the first time I had felt comfortable in my own skin as an NRL player. And my football was the best I have ever played.

Then the injury curse struck again!

Throughout my senior career I have had more than my share of injuries. In my debut season I played about six games and then popped my shoulder. The result was a full shoulder recon’. The following year (2013) was a rarity. I played the whole season uninjured. The year after, at the pre-season Nines, I broke my foot and missed half of the 2014 season. Since then I have had one niggling injury after another.

In my first year at the Sea Eagles (2017) I tore my pectoral muscle and was out for about 10 games. Then in 2018, after a really good pre-season, just four games in I did my knee – an ACL – and there was my season gone.

That knee injury affected me more than any other injury. Obviously healthy knees are crucial to a rugby league player and, although I had suffered a few injuries, I had always had faith in my knees. So that injury was a pretty huge psychological blow. I didn’t handle the time off well either. I was down on myself. I drank too much. I was struggling mentally.

But the turnaround did come. Eventually I had a good look at the bloke in the mirror and said: ‘OK, enough is enough’. I was no longer a kid. There is an end date to every career. If I was to reach my potential I had to start living like a professional athlete, 24/7.

That meant taking a lot better care of my body. I had to start doing all those little things that ensure you are in the best possible shape you can be to give your best performance. No doubt it was a wake-up call. I have only played 90-odd first grade games, while blokes who debuted around the same time as me are up over 150.

Yep, I have had some bad luck with injuries. But I also have nowhere near reached my potential. I still have a lot of confidence in my body. I think about what I am capable of doing and that gives me a lot of confidence for the future.

I have a different mindset now. It’s not like I didn’t have a crack before. I certainly did. But now I know that I am ‘all in’. There are no excuses. Every time I run out now I know that I have done everything I could do in preparation.

I also now am comfortable with my position in the back row. I actually debuted as a five-eighth and have played a lot of football in the halves. But when I moved to the forwards at the Tigers, I just wasn’t ready. My body wasn’t ready. My work rate was not where it should have been. I felt as though I was in the deep end, drowning.

It has taken me four or five seasons to feel at home in the second row and I am still learning.

I am lucky at Manly to have (assistant coach) John Cartwright as a mentor. He was a great back rower and also played with my Dad. David Kidwell at the Tigers was also very helpful.

I am on my way to playing my best football. But I do want more. I want to keep improving. I want to play rep footy. I want to reach my potential and be the player I am meant to be.

I’m Curtis Sironen. I know who I am and who I want to be.