IT was a milestone occasion for Nathan Ross in more ways than one.
On the morning before before the Knights’ effervescent utility back appeared in his 50th NRL fixture, he was a face in the crowd as his son, Ziah, played his first-ever game for South Newcastle Lions.
“He’s in under-sixes and he’s only four, so he didn’t do too bad,” Ross said with a proud smile.
“He got a try and man-of-the-match, so he’s doing better than his old man.”
The 29-year-old late bloomer said his stint on the sideline cheering for Ziah put his own career in perspective.
“Watching them running around out there, it struck me that they’re playing not for money, but just purely to have fun and run around,” he said.
“I guess I took that attitude into my 50th game and went out to have fun and do my thing for the team.”
Having fun might have been at the forefront of his mind, but deep down inside the “Rossdog” was also highly motivated.
He needed no reminding that sitting in the visiting coach’s box was Brisbane tactician Wayne Bennett, the same man who told him several years ago he would be better off getting a job in the mines because he had no future at NRL level.
Bennett doubted Ross had the ability to play in one NRL game, let alone 50. Yet on Saturday night, playing at left centre as replacement for injured Tautau Moga, he kept Brisbane flyer James Roberts contained as Newcastle racked up a 15-10 triumph.
With Moga sidelined for the season after suffering a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, Ross is set for an extended run as centre – the position he played for City Origin in last year’s clash with NSW Country.
“I became a winger by necessity, when I came into first grade,” he said. “When I was playing reserve grade, I was fullback or in the centres.
“I became a winger in order to play NRL and I think I’ve developed from there.
“Last year I played a bit of fullback and I really enjoyed that, and centre is a position that I really, really enjoy as well. You get to make some defensive decisions, you get to get your hands on the ball a little bit more.
“It’s a position that if I can continue to play well in, hopefully I might be able to play it for the rest of the year.”
It was his first game playing alongside Ken Sio, usually a right-side specialist, but the pair have spent many hours working together on the training pitch.
“Kenny Sio and I have developed a good friendship over the past two years that he’s been here,” Ross said.
“Side by side, we trained a lot during the pre-season together, because Tau [Moga] was injured. There’s a lot of trust there. We’re both very hard-working players and we like to get the little areas of the game right. I think that showed on the weekend.”
All that was missing was a try.
Ross hasn’t crossed the stripe since his hat-trick against St George Illawarra on June 25 last year, and his 13-game “drought” is the longest he has endured.
“Tries are good, but I think that’s something I was focusing a little too much on, the individual-highlights stuff, in the first few rounds,” he said.
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