Sydney Roosters back-rower Aidan Guerra was worried when Sonny-Bill Williams joined the club, in fear of losing his spot, but has since grown to new heights. Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos.
You could forgive Roosters second-rower Aidan Guerra for requiring a change of underwear on November 13, 2012.
This was the day the Chooks trumpeted the long awaited return of dual code superstar Sonny Bill Williams to the 13-a-side game, giving the tri-colours faithful reason to crow despite a year where the Bondi club often couldn't quite rally the intensity to be deemed lacklustre.
But for Guerra, who had finally locked down a starting spot in Roosters' back row after an eventful departure from Melbourne three years earlier, the acquisition of a world-class player in his position was understandably cause for more than a little concern.
Having signed with the Roosters mid-2009 in a bid to get a regular crack at a first grade spot, the Townsville junior found himself on the outer with Storm coach Craig Bellamy for the rest of the year, with the veteran mentor peeved that the fruits of Melbourne's labour in recuperating Guerra from four ankle operations in two years would be enjoyed by others.
Already banished to the Victorian local league, Guerra admits he didn't much fancy another extended run with the reserves when news of Williams' arrival at Roosters HQ filtered through to the playing group.
"There was a part of me that thought, ‘What am I going to do?’" said Guerra.
"You can’t really be an edge back-rower when you’ve got Sonny on one edge and Boyd Cordner, an Australian back-rower, on another, so I've had to change my game."
Choosing to get better rather than bitter, the 26-year-old put his head down and posterior up to turn himself from an explosive wide runner into more of a pack workhorse over the past 18 months, and above all Guerra is thankful for the chance to learn from the player who has defined professionalism in the modern game.
"It’s been a pretty good opportunity to learn from Sonny, he's one of the best athletes Australian and New Zealand sport’s ever seen.
"It’s a pleasure out there and he's helped me and driven me to train harder.
"That's just made me a more rounded player and added a little something to my game."
That "little something" has seen Guerra up his defensive work rate from 23 tackles per game to 29 this year as well as being one of the Roosters' most consistent performers, and landed him well and truly on Mal Meninga's radar as he looks to regenerate Queensland's Origin dynasty in coming years.
Just as Chris McQueen and Josh Papalii were shock bolters out of last year's Queensland Emerging Origin camp, Guerra could well be in line for a call-up having attended the camp over the past two years, but for now Guerra is focused on improving the Roosters 4-4 win-loss start to their title defence.
"The main thing is that I’m playing well. I know that I’m preparing well for every game and if that leads to Origin selection, well that leads to selection.
"But if it doesn’t I know that I’m doing everything possible to be [performing] for the Roosters.
"My form’s still building and as a team we’re still building and I’m just happy that I’m one of the ones going in the right direction there.
"It’s good to be stringing a few good games together but when everyone’s playing well I want to be one of them as well."