IT’S easy to smile when you are winning, but ironically having a laugh is why we are winning.

The Dragons’ form has been great this year and the question I get asked the most is: ‘What are you doing differently this year?’

The answer is: ‘Not too much.’

However there is one change that I think has been significant for us. We are focussing more on enjoying what we are doing and being grateful for the position we are in as professional footballers. There is no doubt that if you are happy off the field than you play better footy and everything seems to roll forward much more easily. And so we have been ensuring that we enjoy the moments when we do well.

Football can be a tough sport and you do work really hard to be your best and the ultimate goal is to win. Too often as athletes we don’t sit back and enjoy the moments that count and after a big game we move on too quickly instead of savouring what we have created. It is all a balance. Work hard, but then enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

Of course there will be tough times. That is just part of footy, just as it is part of life. So when the tough times do come don’t dwell on them. Just wipe them away and start again. Because we can’t lose track of the fact that we are in a privileged position. As professional athletes it is a great life.

There is no doubt that part of that off-field enjoyment factor at the Dragons is because of ‘Tonya’. Now, you can bring those eyebrows back down! Tonya is a bus.

Because so many of us live in Sydney we decided to arrange for a bus to ferry players to and from training in Wollongong. It can be a long day, especially during the pre-season and so the last thing you feel like is a long commute back home.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 08: during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Brisbane Broncos at UOW Jubilee Oval on March 8, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 08: during the round one NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Brisbane Broncos at UOW Jubilee Oval on March 8, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

So with the help of a sponsor and the players chipping in, a bus was organised. I am one of the blokes on the bus and I love it. But of course the bus had to have a name. There were a few suggestions, but then James Graham and Jason Nightingale went off to see the movie I, Tonya, which stars Aussie Margot Robbie. Somehow they convinced us that the bus had to be called ‘Tonya’. It had something to do with overcoming hardships and having trouble finding sponsors. Anyway the name Tonya has stuck.

The bus has been a revelation. It has definitely brought players closer. Across that hour or so of travel players mingle, talk – there is no separation. At all clubs you will normally have a separation. The older, more experienced guys tend to stick together and the newer, younger guys keep to themselves. Well, Tonya has broken down that barrier. You have guys of all different ages and personalities having a laugh together.

Even during training blokes will be scheming of things to do on the trip home, punishments etc. So it is funny what brings players together and increases camaraderie, but I have no doubt the bus has played a part.

exclusive insight Tyson Frizell

There is also no doubt what I do away from footy has had a major bearing on my game to date. Currently I am studying towards my Diploma of Small Business. Jason Nightingale is doing the same course. It is just something I am interested in and is also part of my preparation for life after football. I am 26, so I hope I have a few years left, but the fact is football does not last forever.

Just the thought of life not playing rugby league is scary. You grow up putting everything you have into this game. But, one day that will come to an end. So, it only makes sense to start giving some thought to when you have played your last game. The fact is, there is a lot of life to be lived after football.

Other than study, of course family has always been a big part of my life off-field. And these days that centres around my partner Samantha. I think what has shaken us both up a bit has been the amount of players who have said they suffer from a mental health issue and even the devastating loss of some through suicide.

I have had a very fortunate life and have never had to really ‘do it tough’. But both Samantha and I are aware of what can happen – when all of a sudden you are injured or things aren’t going well on the paddock and that can affect your mood. So, Samantha is always on the lookout for me. She does everything she can to ensure that I am in a good head space.

I think the most important thing with mental illness now is that people are talking about it. It is no longer a forbidden subject. Too often in the past players didn’t want to be the one to say they had a problem. Now we have so many people reaching out to help. So just being aware is important.

Another reason I am having a really enjoyable year has a lot to do with another one of my off-field favourites – my brother Shannon who plays for New Zealand Super Rugby team the Highlanders. He is having a really good year and recently scored three tries in a game against the Auckland Blues.

However he grew up in a small village in Tonga and I would only see him a couple of times a year. But when we did visit we would spend all our time together. When he finished school he got a rugby contract playing in New Zealand. We don’t see enough of each other, but I am so proud of what he has achieved.

It just goes to show what can happen when you chase your dreams. At one time we were just two kids playing footy in a village in Tonga. I was big and tubby and he was tall and lanky. Now we both have careers as professional footballers, something that has made Mum and Dad very proud.

We are literally living our dream, so that’s why it is so important to be grateful … and enjoy it.