Sea Eagles back-rower Shaun Lane is sick of playing reserve grade.
That is where the lanky former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and New Zealand Warriors utility has spent most of the past three seasons. He has played 24 NRL games across three clubs stretching back to 2015 and is desperately trying to push that tally much higher.
Lane made nine appearances for Manly in the second row last year, largely because of an injury to Curtis Sironen. He chalked up two line breaks as well as three line break-assists and four offloads.
He has been named in Trent Barrett’s side to face the Cronulla Sharks in the first trial for both clubs on Saturday at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The 23-year-old knows this is the first chance to stay off the Sea Eagles Blacktown Workers players’ list in NSW Cup.
“I started my career pretty well (14 games with Bulldogs) but then had a bit of step backwards (at Warriors, one game) then but got back into it last year,” Lane told NRL.com this week.
“For me it’s just about not taking a step back again now. It’s already happened to me in my career so I want to continue in first grade.
“I don’t really want to have to play reserve grade again and have to push my way back into the team. Hopefully, I just build off what I did last year.”
Lane is fully aware of the challenge ahead, with great Sea Eagles depth in the back row through the likes of Sironen, Lewis Brown, Frank Winterstein, Jack Gosiewski and Kelepi Tanginoa.
And then just before Christmas the club announced a very astute recruit in Joel Thompson from the St George Illawarra Dragons.
“I had a breakout year last year but ‘Thommo’ also had a great season for the Dragons,” Lane said.
“When he signed, it wasn’t really a surprise to me as I heard they (club) wanted added depth in the back- row. It’s a team sport, so it (competition) will do us all the world of good.
“If I have to adjust and play in the middle a little more rather than on the edge that’s what I’ll have to do.”
Another Sea Eagle looking to prove he belongs at NRL level is left centre Brian Kelly.
Now done and dusted with his rookie year, he has no intention of easing up in 2018.
“I have now got that first year out of the way. I’ve been talking to Baz (Barrett) and he wants me to use that year as the platform to build on. So this year I hope to do just as well but improve on it as well.”
Kelly has set the bar high. In his 23 games for Manly last year he scored eight tries, had seven try assists, 52 tackle busts and 12 line breaks. And he did most of it without his left-hand man, winger Jorge Taufua, who tore his ACL in round 12.
“He’s been training well with his knee,” Kelly said. “I am looking forward to getting out there with Jorgie again. I only got a handful of games, maybe 10 with him. But he has a lot of experience and that has helped me a lot. We’ve been training well together. It’s good to be back with him.”
They won’t be reunited in the Sharks trial this weekend, as Taufua is being rested with Johnathan Wright on the wing.
Kelly has also worked hard on his defence in pre-season after missing 67 tackles last year.
I’m learning a few better technical ways for better contact,” he said.
“(Assistant coach) John Cartwright has helped me along with a few of the wrestling coaches.”