Right time. Right place.

In simple terms that’s my story in 2018 and why, at 31, I am feeling better than ever. It is also why I am playing some of the best footy of my career.

A lot of ingredients go into achieving ‘your best’. My return to the Dragons for this season was the first of a number of fruitful ingredients.

Of course if you had asked me in January, I may not have been so confident or complimentary. Our pre-season at the Dragons was tough – real tough.

Jeremy Latimore during the round eight NRL match between the St George Illawara Dragons and Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on April 25, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.
Jeremy Latimore during the round eight NRL match between the St George Illawara Dragons and Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on April 25, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

And yes, there were times when I had a bit of a whinge.

The 90 days of that pre-season were all mapped out and there was no negotiating your way out of the hard slog. You just had to rip in and get the job done.

Of course now, going into the second half of the season you can see the benefits. Not only are we a force on the ladder, but each of us feel fitter and stronger.

I feel great, the best I have felt in my entire career. I love the fact that physically I am confident that I can compete at this level and have no doubt that although I may be approaching my 32nd birthday (not til December!) I still have plenty of petrol left in the tank.

So a big ‘tick’ to the performance staff at the Dragons who put into place a pre-season regime that is working.

Jeremy Latimore exclusive insight nrl dragons

However, for me, the ingredient that has most helped me improve and enjoy my footy this year is Dragons’ coach Paul ‘Mary’ McGregor.

He was the reason I came back to the Dragons, following my stint here in 2012.

Paul gave me my shot early in the top grade and that gave me an enormous amount of confidence. Sometimes, all you need is belief to bring out your best.

Mary’s greatest attributes are his honesty and his no bullshit approach – basically his man management. I have been at a few clubs, and with some coaches you are unsure where you stand with them and what is expected of you.

No such dramas with Mary. You know exactly what he thinks of you and what he wants you to do.

Before and after a game Paul speaks to EVERY player, explaining what he wants and then giving his feedback. He has simplified everything that I do.

Even when it comes to selections Mary is incredibly straight-forward. He may be unsure and he will tell the players involved exactly that and that as soon as he has decided you will know.

His approach lessens the anxiety within players and also within the group.

His honesty also rubs off on the entire playing group and I know it is a reason why we are so tight and why we are where we are on the ladder.

In recent seasons Dragons’ teams have started well, only to fall away. We are aware of that.

We are also aware there is a perception that it will happen again this year.

As a club you can know what the problem is and you can talk about it and say you’re going to fix it, but then it is a case of actually doing something about it.

Each time we have had a loss this season I could hear the knockers say: ‘Yep, the wheels are about to fall off again’.

We are working as hard as we can to not allow skeletons of previous seasons to rare the head.

We know what we have to do. And we will do it.

We know that it will come down to each player’s mentality – how each of us will deal with the adversity that will come; how we will respond.

Jeremy Latimore exclusive insight state of origin

There are key players in our squad who have faced down adversity in their careers and have overcome those hurdles.

People like James Graham and Ben Hunt. The wider playing group have also faced their own challenges over recent years and are more battle-hardened for it.

Even now we are going through the extra burden of Origin, yet are coping well.

I was humbled earlier this year when I read that the club’s pathways director Ian Millward gave me a bit of a wrap and said that I had been brought back to the club for not only what I could do on the field, but also importantly what I offered to the group off the field.

Obviously I have been at a few clubs over the years and have no illusions to where I sit in the pecking order – some players are disposable and some aren’t.

But I consider myself someone who can, and does, talk to all players in the group, from one to 30.

I know how important it is to be part of a playing group that gets on.

Jeremy Latimore exclusive insight nrl dragons

At the Dragons we do. There are a lot of quite humble people here, and of course also a few who are great practical jokers and who are always looking to take the piss out of someone, which is great for a laugh.

The final key in ingredient to my year has been life away from footy. I love playing rugby league.

It’s a great way to earn a living, but the other things in my life keep me centred and grounded.

My family keep me very happy and there are also other things, such as continuing education for life after footy, that make life complete.

Home life is so important and is the key to every player’s happiness.

I had offers for more money to go to other clubs this year, but by coming from the Sharks to the Dragons I was able to stay where we are – close to our friends.

When I was a kid, footy was my whole life. Now it is still an important part of my life, but not my whole life … and I think that makes me a better player.