Jarom Haines made his first grade debut in the 2016 preliminary final.
Two years on and he returns to the same Newcastle Rugby League stage, but with a different perspective.
Not only has the now 21-year-old changed from then club Western Suburbs to Kurri Kurri, but he has shifted from fullback to wing and recently settled into the role as Bulldogs halfback.
Haines has formed a deadly combination with veteran playmaker Jade Porter for the in-form Kurri, helping last year’s wooden spooners sneak into the top five with four straight victories to finish the regular rounds, then triumphing in back-to-back elimination semis and now sitting just one win away from a grand final appearance.
“It feels like we have all the momentum in the world,” Haines told the Newcastle Herald ahead of Sunday’s preliminary final against minor premiers Lakes at Townson Oval.
“There’s a lot confidence there and it all comes down to team effort and belief. We might not have as much skill as other teams but we all turn up and stick together, that’s the main thing.”
Haines arrived at the Bulldogs last season, but didn’t play much because of “off field dramas” and “not having any work”.
Approaching the end of the 2018 campaign, the Fletcher-based apprentice electrician has described his “first full year at Kurri as one to remember”.
As for wearing the No.7 jersey.
“I actually played on the wing at the start of the year,” Haines said.
“I got a crack [at halfback] one day against Maitland [mid-season] and I’ve stayed there ever since.
“Then Jade came back [from surgery] and we’ve been in there together. I think we complement each other and it’s good having that kind of experience around.”
Haines and Porter actually share something else in common, along with Bulldogs winger Brady McGrady and centre Ngangarra Barker.
“We’re both Moree boys,” Haines said. “And the other boys have ties back there as well. That makes everything a bit easier.”
Rewinding to his top grade debut, teenager Haines was thrown into the deep end in 2016 and recalls being “nervous as” before running out at Kurri with an injury-depleted and eventually defeated Wests. This time around he feels like the Bulldogs are better placed.
“I didn’t want to make any mistakes [on debut], especially being a semi. But it was a good experience,” he said.
“This time I think we [Kurri] are in a better position [than Wests were]. We had a mountain of injuries then and this year it’s all so close, it’s anyone’s ball game.
“Now it’s not just a thought. We can actually make winning a comp a reality. We can see the finish line, but there’s still a lot of hard work to do.”
KURRI: Lachlan Hill, Barry McGrady, Zeb Dunstan, Ngangarra Barker, Tyme Dow-Nikau, Jade Porter, Jarom Haines, Michael Steele, Tom McKenzie, Brock Gilmour, Brady Hammond, Ben Wyborn, Mitch Cullen, Reid Alchin, Jordan Mitchell, Peter Cronin, Callum Nugent.
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