It took a new club and a change of scenery for Justin Horo to rediscover his rugby league mojo but it was an old friend that the Manly back-rower credits for helping him turn it all around.
Unloved and unwanted at Parramatta by former coach Stephen Kearney last season, Horo was granted an early release to join the Sea Eagles in 2013 where he has been joined by the man that temporarily replaced Kearney at the Eels last season, Brad Arthur.
And it was Arthur that recognised exactly where Horo had been doing wrong, telling the 26-year-old to stop overcomplicating things and simply start running at holes again.
“That’s something I prided myself on as a junior coming through the grades and I was a bit guilty of getting away from that,” Horo told NRL.com in the lead-up to tonight’s blockbuster against the Roosters at Brookvale Oval. “I was probably trying to do too much with the footy.
“Brad Arthur (now assistant coach at Manly) came over with me from Parramatta and it’s something we’ve worked on. We spoke about it over the off-season that I was trying to do too much. I’ve simplified my game which is nice and easy. I just wait for Kieran [Foran] to call something and when he calls it, I get into position for him.”
The loss of giant back-rower Tony Williams was considered a huge blow to Manly’s premiership credentials this season but while the NSW and Australian forward has struggled to find his feet at Canterbury, Horo has been a revelation at the Sea Eagles where he is part of the side’s lethal left-edge combination alongside Foran, Steve Matai and Jorge Taufua.
“We’re enjoying playing together,” Horo said. “I think we’ve got similar styles of footy. Kieran loves taking it to the line and I love just hitting a hole. We kind of suit each other.
“And defending with them as well – they’re so aggressive and that makes my job so much easier. I don’t have to think too much, I can just stick on my man and I’m reaping the benefits of it.”
That Horo has retained his spot in the starting side is credit to the impact he has made on Manly’s left fringe, with Glenn Stewart taking over at 13 since his return from injury and talented Jamie Buhrer resigned to a bench spot.
“I was probably a bit fortunate when I first arrived – there were a few injuries with [Stewart] not doing any of the pre-season and Jamie Buhrer being injured as well. I think he was earmarked to take over but I got to work on some combinations with Kieran and Stevey. I was lucky enough to hold my spot and I’m really feeling comfortable here now.
“It’s funny, I was a bit nervous going into Round 1 because it’s a new club for me and it’s been a successful club, too.
I’m a new piece like a few of the recruits here, so I didn’t want to be the reason why this team suddenly goes on a downward slide. I was also trying to find my place back and get confidence again playing NRL but as the weeks have gone on I’ve felt more and more comfortable. That kind of started back in pre-season as well, where they made me feel at home straight away, but the more the weeks go on the more that’s the case.
“I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying the change and the new scenery. I’m starting to get back to where I wanted to be when I first made my debut.”
While the Sea Eagles have barely missed a beat since Horo’s arrival, tonight’s clash with the red-hot Roosters will provide an interesting test as to where they stand right now.
Having lost to South Sydney two weeks ago and battled to a narrow win against St George Illawarra last Monday, they welcome back Matai from suspension this week but are without star fullback Brett Stewart for up to a month.
“We’ve got a few injuries starting to creep into us and a couple of guys suspended,” Horo said. “We get Steve back this week which is a big plus for us but we looked at this four-week period as a really tough period with the opposition we’ve got so we’re going to need everyone in the club to step up now and that’s what we’re looking for.
“The Roosters are one of the form teams of the competition. We had the same thing with Souths a few weeks back and came up a little bit short, so I’m looking forward to the test.”