A trim and terrific Shannon Boyd has become a regular member of the Raiders' NRL team in his rookie season. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos
It's close to a 400-kilometre round trip from Canberra to Cowra but allowing hulking front-rower Shannon Boyd to return home to the New South Wales Central West once a week has played a major part in his successful transition into the NRL in 2014.
That's the opinion of his former Canberra under-20s coach Andrew Dunemann who was on the Gold Coast last Sunday in his role as a referees evaluator and saw Boyd rack-up 92 metres from just hit-ups against the Titans.
Now weighing in at a tick over 120 kilograms, the 193-centimetre Boyd tipped the scales at 123kg in 2012 in the under-20s competition under Dunemann and turned up to pre-season training last year at 129kg and receiving some stern words from new coach Ricky Stuart.
He impressed Stuart so much to the point that he was named in the side to play the Cowboys in Round 1 in Townsville and has been able to cement a regular place in the Canberra 17 in his rookie season and earn a three-year contract extension.
But in addition to the weight loss and subsequent improvement in mobility, Dunemann believes allowing the 21-year-old to return to the family property in Cowra is an important aspect to his development.
"Sometimes when it is like that you can let that get in the way of full concentration on what you're doing but I think for him it's good," Dunemann said of the regular trips home. "It's good to break it up.
"I think with all footy players you need to have something away from footy as an interest otherwise it becomes mundane and you get to the end of the year or two years and you're just fed up with it so by having the mix that he has it's really good for his footy as well.
"If you ever meet his family, they're a very family-oriented family. They live and die for each other and they are very tight, probably one of the tightest families I've seen and they're really good people as well. I can see why he does try to go back there as much as he can."
Having a girlfriend in the neighbouring town of Canowindra is another reason for Boyd to want to escape the national capital but he insists that when he gets home he rarely gets a chance to put his feet up.
"He's got a few little businesses there, Dad," Boyd told NRL.com. "He's got a metal work business, making sheep and cattle feeders and hay feeders and that sort of stuff and he has a lucerne farm there and we fatten about 8000-10,000 lambs a year.
"I do a bit of everything. Normally work with my brother, we weigh a lot of lambs and do the farm side of things, just try to stay out of the metal work sheds, it's not too much fun.
"It's good going back home, got a good, tight family so it's not bad at all."
Dominating under-age competitions when you're the biggest bloke on the field is rarely a foolproof indicator that a player has what it takes to make it in the game's toughest weekly competition but Dunemann says under the very large exterior is an engine specifically built for the purpose.
"Obviously with his size there was going to be a potential issue there, particularly in defence with lateral movement and stuff like that but he's lost a few kilos and I think he was always going to make it because he's got that winning attitude and he's a competitor," said Dunemann.
"Had he been a big bloke and not been a competitor like he is then he might struggle but he was always going to crack it at some stage purely because he is a competitor and when you put that together with his body then he's dead-set made to play first grade.
"[His attitude] has gotten better as he's got older. He's got a great motor. He's 120-odd kilos but he's probably one of the fittest forwards, his engine is really good so that obviously helps him as well."
After receiving a pre-season reality check from his coach, Boyd adopted a much more careful approach to his diet, cutting out visits to takeaway restaurants and heeding the advice of seasoned professionals such as David Shillington and Brett White with regards to his alcohol intake.
"Probably my biggest thing has been alcohol. I don't drink anywhere near as much, I might drink once a month, maybe, so just tried to cut right back on that," Boyd said of any wonderful weight loss secrets.
"The [senior players] are all very professional. To be at that level you have to be so in pre-season they weren't drinking unless there was something on and just learning off them. Just watching them and when they say that it's a good time to have a drink, have a drink then and that sort of thing so it worked well."
For Dunemann, the next phase in Boyd's development will be to introduce a greater ball-playing component into his game, something he endeavoured to begin two years ago in the under-20s.
"He needs to develop that. As you get bigger and start taking on guys who are equal strength and equal size then you need to mix your game up a bit and I think he definitely needs to develop a pass," he said.
"That was something that we tried to start working on and once he starts to find his feet in first grade and gets a few games under his belt then you can start gradually throwing little subtleties into his game. For the moment he's probably hitting it on the head with how he's playing."