JACOB Saifiti has learned from painful experiences never to take his rugby league career for granted.
Tossed in at the deep end of the NRL as a 19-year-old, alongside twin brother Daniel, Jacob played in 39 games in his first two seasons with the Knights and represented Fiji at the 2017 World Cup.
He was entitled to feel he had survived his sink-or-swim initiation and that the best was yet to come.
But in 2018, a fractured shoulder blade he sustained in round 11 reduced the towering prop to a spectator for the remainder of that campaign.
He was just getting over it when a well-documented incident outside a Hamilton hotel, which occurred a year ago this weekend, left him nursing a broken ankle.
He returned late in the piece to make seven top-grade appearances this year, but even after the departure of James Gavet to England, is realistic about his spot in the pecking order.
"My goal is just to make the 17 for round one," he told the Newcastle Herald.
"I got a taste of first grade again at the end of the year and I don't want to go back. I want to be a first-grader, but there's a lot of competition.
"It's about taking small steps forward. We've got three Origin middles in the club [David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Tim Glasby], and then guys like myself, Josh King, Jirah [Momoisea] - even young guys like Jack Cameron coming through - we're all competing for the other spots.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm backing myself but I'm also a realist.
"I just have to rip in every day and give myself every opportunity to be in that 17 for round one."
Adding to Saifiti's desire is the knowledge that his contract expires at the end of this season.
"I've just bought my first house and I don't want to buy it and then have to sell it because I'm moving," he said.
"I'd love nothing more than to stay in Newcastle.
"I grew up on the Central Coast and all my best mates are here. This feels like home."
But he knows any contract negotiations will be a waiting game.
"They normally start at the top and work their way down," the 23-year-old said.
The Knights recently re-signed Daniel for two more seasons, and are poised to announce that back-rower Mitch Barnett has agreed to a new three-year deal.
"I feel like the ball is in my court," Jacob said.
"I'm hoping that if my footy is good enough, the club will want to keep me.
"So it's up to me to make sure I'm doing everything I can.
"That starts now, in the pre-season, competing hard at training, eating well, and putting myself in the best position."
And the memories of some dark days play a crucial role in keeping him focused.
"I look back on it and use it as motivation," he said.
"That felt like I was back at the bottom, starting over again, and the only way to get back where I wanted to be was to work hard."