The nerves have already kicked in and Cory Denniss admits he is feeling “anxious” about his return to the NRL on Saturday night.
A bit like the feeling two years ago when coach Nathan Brown plucked the 18-year-old out of obscurity and threw him in the deep-end after just two Under 20’s games to debut against the Canberra Raiders.
But there is a distinct difference this time.
Denniss now believes he is ready. Worthy even. He feels like he has worked for his spot in the top grade, even if it has come at the expense of the injured Nathan Ross.
“Over the past few pre-seasons, I’ve found out what it takes to be an NRL player,” Denniss says. “That’s the difference.
“I was thrown in from nowhere last time when the club wasn’t in an ideal state. Normally, I would not have been given that opportunity.
“But I was grateful for it. Obviously, it was a very exciting day for me and my family and all my close mates. To score two tries on debut, it was something very special and something I’ll hold for the rest of my life.”
Reality was always going to kick in though for the Lakes United junior, who still lives with his biggest supporters, his parents and sister, at Pelican.
After seven appearances in 2016, he was sent back to the lower grades to actually learn what it takes to fight his way back up.
Denniss, who turns 21 next month, says he never doubted he would.
“If you keep working hard for what you want, you don’t stop and generally, everything always pays off in the end,” he said.
“You go back [to the lower grades] and work on the areas you need to focus on. Defence is something I’ve tried really hard to get better at.
“If you get the defence right, everything comes together off the back of that so if you are saving tries, it’s just as good as scoring them.”
With two full pre-seasons under his belt, the trainee telecommunications student, who has put on around six kilograms since his debut to strip at around 100kgs, is ready to challenge himself in the centres against Parramatta at ANZ Stadium.
He’ll be marking Michael Jennings, who has scored 10 tries in his past 11 games against the Knights, and knows he will be targeted by the Eels attack.
Something that will give him confidence is there will be familiar faces inside and outside of him on the left edge.
“The good thing is I’ve played with Kenny [Sio] a few times when he was back in reserve grade early in the season and with Cogs [Jack Cogger] quite a bit in 20’s and in reserve grade as well,” he said.
“So that gives me confidence because I know they are going to do a job for me. If we are all working together as an edge and all stay connected, I think we’ll be able to do a job out there.”
Denniss says he is looking forward to the challenge of facing Jennings.
“He’s a classy player with a lot of experience. He’s played Origins, he’s played Tests for Australia,” he said.
“I’ve just got to go out and do a good job on him.”
As for those nerves: “I’ll be nervous but I’ll control them and focus on what I have to do and don’t over-think what I have to do.”
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