When Herman Ese'ese failed to make the Knights squad for the opening round clash against Cronulla at the start of the season, it cut deep. But it had nothing to do with ego or entitlement.
"It hurt most because I felt like I had let down my Dad," Ese'ese explains.
The Knights prop lost his father Meli 55, to cancer during the off-season and told the Newcastle Herald back in January he was dedicating 2019 to "my greatest supporter".
"To not even make first grade for the season opener when Dad was my motivation to do well was pretty hard to take. It's why I was so disappointed."
Disappointed enough to be thinking his future may lie elsewhere? The rumours suggested that was the case. But Ese'ese says it never crossed his mind.
"I spoke to my manager and told him what was happening and I think he was the one that wasn't happy and clubs were approaching him," he said.
"From my perspective, I'm here for another year at least and I'm putting all my energy and focus into the Newcastle Knights and nowhere else. I'm all about this club first and foremost."
While he may not have completely understood the reasons behind his axing to NSW Cup at the time, it didn't take long for the Kiwi International to realise what he needed to do to fight his way back into the top grade.
While he has always had the explosive leg speed and footwork at the line to trouble any defence, it was his work without the footy during the trials that led to his downfall. It took just a couple of video sessions to show him where the improvement needed to come.
"It wasn't so much my skills, it was more my effort and it showed in my trial form," he said.
"My effort wasn't up to scratch and I was kind of lazy in my movement in defence which showed up in the videos they showed me."
Playing NSW Cup and getting dropped for a second time after playing in the top grade against Penrith in round two was a sobering period.
"It was tough for me. It wasn't where I wanted to be," he said. "But at the same time, I understood what I had to do. What I needed to work on.
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"Looking back, I probably kind of relied on my form from last year a bit to get me through without putting in enough effort. But I quickly realised I need to really up my game and I have to do that every week because we have a lot of quality forwards now.
"I can't afford to coast. I need to keep working hard every session, every week and doing my extras because the standards that are being set now are a lot higher than last year."
Now back in the top grade, Ese'ese is starting to find the form which saw him play all but one NRL game for the club in 2018.
His performance off the bench against the Bulldogs last weekend had teammates and fans in raptures.
In just 26 minutes, he made 14 hit-ups and 144 metres in an explosive stint that saw him make eight tackle busts and 15 tackles without a miss.
Skipper Mitchell Pearce was full of praise.
I'm not looking to give my spot up to anyone now but that's up to me.Herman Ese'ese
"Herman was great for us and was just what we needed off the bench," Pearce said.
"He's had a bit of a slow start to the season but at his best, he is exactly to sort of forward we need because he is so hard to handle when he winds up and against the Dogs, he showed what he is capable of."
For his part, Ese'ese believes he can get even better.
"I was pretty happy with how I played on the weekend," he said. "All I wanted to do when I came on was make an impact and try and inspire my teammates. I was just trying to do my job I guess. It's all come down to recognising I need to work really hard and take nothing easy. I'm not looking to give my spot up to anyone now but that's up to me.
"I just want to take my game to another level and really cement my place in first grade. Try and play well for Dad every week. That's a big part of my motivation now."