Dumped to feeder club Wentworthville in the NSW Cup a month ago, Parramatta’s forgotten man Daniel Mortimer says he is determined to prove that his brilliant debut season during the Eels’ stunning run to the grand final two years ago was no fluke.
Mortimer was instrumental in the club’s remarkable run of 10 wins from 11 games in 2009 after making his NRL debut in Round 12, the Eels’ hierarchy rewarding him with a new $250,000-per-year deal to the end of 2012.
But the 22-year-old has struggled to recapture that form since, with coach Stephen Kearney finally biting the bullet and dropping him to the NSW Cup last month.
His replacement in the No.6 jersey, Casey McGuire, has filled the role admirably in Mortimer’s absence, with Parramatta thrashing Cronulla 40-6 and recording a 14-all draw with premiers St George Illawarra in their last start.
Mortimer was a notable absentee for the fourth game in a row when the Eels’ team sheet was released on Tuesday but he told NRL.com this morning that he is now more determined than ever to prove that he isn’t a one-hit wonder.
“That’s definitely [my motivation],” Mortimer said. “I’d love to be back up there playing for Parra and the only way to do that is to get some confidence and prove myself to the coaches that I can really make an impact in the NRL.
“That’s the important thing – I need to get back to playing that instinctive footy that I’ve gone away from.”
Asked how he felt about his axing four weeks ago, Mortimer said: “It’s about clearing my head and I really just want to get back to enjoying my footy – obviously you enjoy it more when you’re playing well.
“Hopefully I will draw some confidence from my time at Wentworthville. I’d love to be back up in first grade again soon but Casey is playing pretty well there. The more he does that the harder it will be for me. He played well against the Dragons last game so I’ll just have to bide my time.
“I’ve still got a bit of time at Parramatta to prove myself. I’ll just take it slowly and enjoy my footy. That’s what it’s all about.”
Wentworthville have won two from three with Mortimer in the side, including a plucky 33-26 result against top-of-the-table Cronulla last weekend in a performance the young five-eighth rated as his best of the season.
But he admitted it would take some time before he rediscovered his form of old and won his place back in the Parramatta side.
“There are a few things that [Kearney] wants me to fine-tune – some skills,” he said. “He has always been happy with my effort and my dedication to footy and that’s something I pride myself on but there are some things I need to work on.
“I can’t put my finger on why I’ve gone away from what I was doing but definitely in ’09 I was a fresh country boy that was used to just playing what I saw. I think I’ve lost that a little bit.
“I need to get that little spark back. Hopefully my time at Wentworthville will prove that I can do it.
“But it’s going alright. We’ve had a few good wins now at Wentworthville and I’m back there to get a bit of confidence. I think last week was probably my best game of the year so far.”
Mortimer’s task will only get harder next year with Parramatta having signed playmakers Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts in recent weeks.
Although current halfback Jeff Robson has since signed with Cronulla in 2012, Mortimer said greater depth at the club next season meant there would be no free rides.
“I mean, it’s not ultimate for me but I guess it’s just more motivation and more reason for me to work hard at my game,” he said.
“You have to take those things in a positive way. It will be harder to get that spot back with those two players – they’re both good players and they add more depth to the side which isn’t a bad thing.”
Despite his recent snubbing, Mortimer said he was still happy with his decision to stay with the Eels (he knocked back an offer to follow in father Peter’s footsteps and join Canterbury) and is determined to prove his worth.
“I love the club and I think it’s a privilege to play in the halves at a club like Parramatta,” he said. “Although there is a lot of pressure it makes it all the more worthwhile to go out there and do the job. When you see the crowds that we were getting at the end of the 2009 season, that’s why I want to get back into the NRL. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do really.
“Obviously you enjoy it more when you’re playing better and winning games. We weren’t doing so much of that at the start of the year. But I wouldn’t swap my job for anything in the world. I still get a buzz when I run out in front of the crowd at Parra. It makes me want to get back there as soon as I can.”
Late NRL news:
• Parramatta will face a Manly side missing State of Origin star William Hopoate on Monday night, the 19-year-old out for six weeks with a hamstring tear suffered playing for NSW on Wednesday night. His place will be taken by either Michael Oldfield or Michael Robertson.
• The Dragons will head into tonight’s clash with Brisbane minus both starting back-rowers after Ben Creagh (ankle) and Beau Scott (knee) were injured on Wednesday. Winger Brett Morris has also been ruled out after failing a fitness test this week.
• Penrith’s Luke Lewis is another casualty of Origin after straining his hamstring while starring in the Blues’ 18-8 win. NSW medical staff advised him after the game not to take the field against Newcastle tomorrow night.