As tough a grind as 2018 was, it could well be the most defining year of my life.

For obvious reasons all players look forward to round one, but for me, our season opener against Newcastle could not have come quicker.

With all the injuries and off-field battles that I was up against last season, the opportunity to reset my football was welcomed with open arms.

For the first six-eight weeks of the pre-season, I wasn’t able to do a great deal because of off-season shoulder surgery. I had a delayed start to the pre-season; restricted to light training with the rehab group until I was able to commence full training with the rest of the squad in December.

As tough as summer as it had been from a physical sense, the high performance staff at the Sharks have really looked after me, as did all the other boys.

I wasn’t able to play in the pre-season trial match against Manly, but by the time the season opener was here, I was ready to rip in alongside my teammates.

I’m hopeful and focused on re-capturing the form that has seen me awarded with representative honours for New South Wales and Australia, as I still feel as though I have plenty to give in the representative arenas.

2018 was the first full season of rugby league where I did not play representative football. It was a bitter pill to swallow, as my form and fitness contributed significantly towards that, but it also gave me a chance to stop and appreciate how lucky I am to have been part of rep footy for so many consecutive seasons.

If it comes my way this season, I’ll be ready for the recall, but if it doesn’t I know it won’t be the end of the world.

I know rep footy is a reward for strong performances at club level, so my only focus is on playing consistent footy with the Sharks and helping Cronulla build one of the most damaging backlines alongside the likes of Shaun Johnson, Josh Morris and Chad Townsend.

We have so much experience, depth and run on the outside, as a team we have a real chance to hurt sides if we play the level of football we know we are capable of.

It was disappointing to finish the season like we did last year, but we’ve honestly put that behind us. As it’s so commonly suggested, sometimes you need to take one small step back in order to re-evaluate and push forward in the right direction.

And there is no reason why we still can’t use the growth from 2018 to catapult our ambitions to playing deep into finals.

Premiership windows don’t just open for a single season – if anything, last season should give us the confidence to know we are right on the cusp.

Personally, although it wasn’t my best year with the injuries and off-field battles, there were parts of my football I was able to improve upon and develop my all-around game.

I’m a big fan of NBA basketball and as an athlete, one of the things I appreciate most about the megastars of the game like Lebron James, Steph Curry and James Harden is they are always searching for new ways to develop their overall prowess on the court.

Steph’s arguably the greatest shooter of all time and deservedly has the license from his coach to take any shot he wants.

But he emphasises on getting the rest of his teammates involved, frequently sacrificing his own success so his teammates can take centre-stage.

I read somewhere Andrew Bogut call him the most “selfless” superstar in the NBA, and I think that’s such an incredible testament to his play, character and how he is valued around the league as a teammate.

It’s exactly how I want to be viewed in rugby league – a player that other players want to run out alongside on game day.

In my 11 years in the NRL, I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside some of the greatest players the game has ever seen, but I’ve always remembered the teammates that have had enormous impact on my career.

Especially when I was coming through the system, I had a number of veterans that made it known to me early days what was required.

It wouldn’t be fair to name anyone, for fear I’ll forget someone, but as a player you never forget the lads who take time to support you or go out of their way to pass on wisdom or experience that they know you will benefit from.

Of course, winning an NRL premiership will always remain my greatest goal in rugby league, but coming in a close second is the reputation I build and create in the minds of my teammates, coaches and fans of our great game.

I’ve put 2018 behind me, but those lessons and hardships will absolutely be driving me throughout 2019… it could well be the most defining year of my life.