I’ve always had to fight for what’s mine.

So when people were asking me, was it difficult to be on the fringe of team selection every round last year… it really isn’t nothing new for me.

I’m used to having to fight for my spot each week. The fact that I’ve always been in calculations reminds me that I’m heading in the right direction.

This year however, I’m out to cement a spot in the starting 13. I have been building my game for a couple of seasons now, and I feel as though I am ready to take the next step in my footy.

Peter Wallace sticking around has been enormous, not just for my confidence but for his mentorship also.

Although he started his career at half-back, Pete became one of the best hookers in the game at his peak, and he knows better than anyone what is required to make it in the NRL.

When I heard he was staying on as an assistant coach, I couldn’t have had a bigger smile on my face.

I have been an absolute sponge around Pete, since my first day walking through the doors of Panthers headquarters.

I have yet to come across another player who has a higher IQ for the game of rugby league than Pete.

He was always a step in front of the opposition with the way he organised our sets. He was always thinking about the “next” tackle-play, and not necessarily what was happening in real time.

Mixed in with the fact he was ultra tough and competitiveness… why would anyone not want to mirror how he played his footy.

One of the key areas he has been helping me this pre-season is resilience and problem-solving.

Pete has been teaching me not the will to win, but rather how to win.

As Pete repeated to me time and time again this summer, sometimes you just aren’t yourself out there, and you aren’t as effective as you want to be. But you can always find a way to win, especially in the final moments of a game.

Sometimes the right play, at the right time, makes all the difference.

Class has been in session all summer, but it’s all worth it when you have a terrific teacher.

Defence is another area of my game I’ve been working on. I’ve been looking to add more mass to my frame, in a bid to compete at a more consistent level through the middle.

Cameron Ciraldo, our assistant coach, always tells me that defence is the most important skill for every player.

A single defensive play can change the entire momentum of a game.

With Ivan Cleary coming on board as our new head coach, his style of play really suits how I approach the game.

He wants his players to have the license to take the game on, and I’ve always felt I’m at my best, when I’m given the freedom the play instinctive footy.

I obviously gained an opportunity under ‘Hook’, and I will be forever grateful for the potential he saw in me.

With Ivan coming into the mix, I feel he is another strong voice that will only help me continue to develop and improve as footballer.

Ivan is one of the game’s most respected coaches, and his coaching and leadership techniques are proven at NRL level.

What’s impressed me most though is how he carries himself in front of the playing group. One of the first messages he delivered to us was his desire to build a winning culture, but an environment that gave every player the opportunity to grow and succeed in their own right.

He is a strong advocate for setting high standards in a bid to get the best out of all his players.

Everyone has been ripping in hard over the summer – the usual suspects in Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, James Maloney and Josh Mansour all leading the way on the tracking track.

There is a real anticipation amongst the lads, as we await for the season proper to start.

Every training session is better than the one before it, and our game style is really starting to shape now.

Again, personally, it’s about building on what I’ve done these two summers, but also laying down the foundations of where I want to get to.

We’ve constantly reminded that as NRL players, we’re only in this game for a relatively short period of time, and we need to make the most of our chances when they are there to be taken.

This pre-season has been a grind – I’ve worked harder than I ever have, and feel as though I am edging closer to where I want to be.

Here’s hoping it all pays off in a few weeks time.