Penrith's serial pest is back

Luke Lewis wants to make one thing perfectly clear – in-form Penrith back-rower Trent Waterhouse is still as much of a pest as he ever was.<br><br>According to Lewis, Waterhouse was a pest when the two celebrated Penrith’s dream grand final win in 2003, and a pest when he picked up all of his NSW and Australian jerseys.<br><br>But one thing is certain, pest or not, Penrith fans will see Waterhouse is a changed man from the one who has struggled to leave his mark on the NRL in recent seasons.<br><br>“I’ve been playing with him for a fair few years now… I think this is the seventh or eighth year I’ve played with him and to be honest, he hasn’t changed much,” Lewis explains.<br><br>“He’s always the same – loud, cheeky and probably the biggest pest in the team.<br>&nbsp;<br>“He’s a rat, and I love the bloke. He’s a champion, but you have to put that in there… that he’s a pest… and make sure it is quoted from Luke Lewis and Nathan Smith.”<br><br>The playful banter between two of Penrith’s hardened leaders underlines the tight-knit fabric that is pushing the Mountain Men to prove their critics wrong.<br><br>Central to that charge is the form of Waterhouse, an oft-maligned soul who’s battled with media criticism in recent years. But a player whose&nbsp; changed outlook&nbsp; on life and new body (sculpted by noted strength and conditioning coach Carl Jennings) has returned him to the upper echelon of NRL back-rowers, and rocketed him back into representative contention.<br><br>“I welcomed my first baby into the world last July, and I think it does make you grow up a little bit… you’ve got a little human you’ve got to look after,” Waterhouse glowed when asked about his little girl, Isla.<br><br>“It does make you mature a lot more. It puts everything into perspective… she comes first with everything now, it’s really grounding.<br><br>“Instead of going to the bar I’ve got to come home and change some dirty nappies mate!”<br><br>But on the field ‘the ’House’ felt flat. Having forged a career on punching through the line, leveling opposition forwards and using his hefty frame to barge his way to 10 Australian jerseys he felt too light and knew something wasn’t right.<br><br>So at the end of a disappointing 2008, Waterhouse came to Jennings and told him in no uncertain terms he needed to change – he wanted to bring back the bulk, in a big way.<br><br>It was music to the ears of the popular English trainer, who helped Waterhouse add six kilograms of lean muscle mass over the summer.<br><br>“Last year I focused on getting them as fit as possible because I assumed with the 10 interchanges the game would be a lot quicker – but we lacked power, we lacked strength,” Jennings clarifies.<br><br>“And that was a thing last year, it was really against my beliefs in a lot of respects, but we made a decision that we had a big team as far as stature was concerned, so we felt that we had to get them a lot more mobile and lighter.<br><br>“Trent was putting the mileage in, but it was counterproductive in the end with the amount of stoppages last year… it just backfired on us completely.<br><br>“And with Trent I think it’s been magnified in a lot of respects because he’s a hard trainer so he really got stuck into last year’s program, which hurt him, and he’s done the same getting bigger on this year’s program, and you can see the results of that on the field.”<br><br>At the start of this decade Jennings was responsible for crafting one of rugby league’s more fearsome forward units, the Bradford Bulls “juggernauts” pack.<br><br>Their pack included 130-kilogram behemoths in the front row and Pommy brutes Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock in the back row, where Waterhouse would have flourished.<br><br>“They called us the ‘juggernauts’, we had a reputation of being the biggest, strongest pack in the English Super League, and we believed it was the biggest most powerful pack in world rugby league,” Jennings tells Big League.<br><br>“Trent would have been fantastic in that pack, he’s playing outstanding and he’s got some punch back into what he’s doing – he’s feeling strong in himself, which is giving himself confidence.<br><br>“Fitness and having a good engine… that is Trent Waterhouse, he’s got that toughness and he can push himself to the limits.”<br><br>So we are seeing Trent Waterhouse back doing what he does best: breaking the line, shrugging off tackles and lifting his team-mates.<br><br>In just five games, Waterhouse has produced three line-breaks, just one less than he could muster all last season. And after breaking just 40 tackles in 21 games last year, Waterhouse has shocked the stats men by crashing through 17 already in 2009.<br><br>Lewis puts it down to the 28-year-old’s new-found seniority in a seriously green team.<br><br>“I know all the young guys look up to him and he’s really&nbsp; leading from the front&nbsp; which is awesome,” Lewis, Waterhouse’s only remaining team-mate from the 2003 premiership side, says.<br><br>“You can’t take away experience, and Trent’s experienced everything – he’s been in all the big games.<br><br>“He’s just a workhorse. He plays hard, and I think he’s back to the footy that he showed that he can play when he played for NSW and Australia.<br><br>“I think with all the crap that has been going in the papers, he’s out there showing what he can do and what he wants to do for his mates on the field.”<br><br>The Origin arena is one of Waterhouse’s main goals for 2009, having worn the jersey twice in 2004, and he wants to take his Penrith leadership skills into what is likely to be a youthful NSW side.<br><br>“I’d love to be part of the NSW squad this year. I got a taste of it a few years back and I’d love to get back there,” he admits.<br><br>“Origin is the pinnacle of playing the game. It’s the best footy you can play. I just remember the intensity of it, and the hype around it… I was pretty young and it was pretty overwhelming at the time.<br><br>“I love having a leadership role at Penrith, we’ve got all these young blokes in our side, we’ve got a pretty young side, and I’m learning off leaders like Petero, so I’d love to see that translate into Origin footy if I was lucky enough to get picked.<br><br>“Petero’s been great for my game personally; it was big for me when the club signed him. <br><br>He’s one of the best leaders and players in the game. Just learning off him has been great for me.”