With his troubles seemingly behind him and Cronulla riding the wave of a rare three-game winning streak, newly anointed Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney says he is finally enjoying his football again following his controversial departure from Sydney Roosters last year.
In his first full interview since heading to the Shire in 2012, Carney spoke with NRL.com about his determination to earn the respect of team-mates and help restore a winning culture to the club alongside fellow 2011 discard Jeff Robson.
And while the 25-year-old makes it clear that certain topics remain out of bounds, he is quick to admit that his enjoyment of the game waned during his tumultuous final 12 months at the Roosters.
“Which is why it’s so good to be here and enjoying my football again,” Carney said. “As you can see on the field and watching me at training, there is a spark there now. I really think this club is heading in the right direction.”
The evidence was there for all to see at Toyota Stadium yesterday as Carney and his Sharks team-mates were put through their paces in a lengthy training session. In between running a series of attacking drills, the entire extended squad ran sprints up and down the field – first from the try line to the furthest 20-metre line, back to the opposing 40-metre line and around again. Each time it was Carney out in front. Even when the session came to a halt, it was Carney and Robson that remained kicking goals and running through some plays with one another.
Asked about the importance of setting a good example for his new team-mates given past transgressions, Carney said: “It’s always important to earn respect but whether I’ve been here for one year or 10 years I pride myself on being one of the fittest at my club.
“But I think as a half you’re brought up with that sense of trying to be a leader. I was told by ‘Flanno’ (coach Shane Flanagan) to try and be a leader from day one, so that was easy for me.
“We had a pre-season of a lot of running and hard work and that’s where I tried to put my leadership forward with the way I trained. I felt that I did that and that I earned a bit of respect in that department. When it was time to talk up a bit more, I was comfortable and it made it a lot easier for me.”
Carney is also full of praise for captain Paul Gallen and other long-serving Sharks players for taking him at face value when he first arrived at the club last November.
“I settled in from the very first week of training,” he continued. “The boys were really good to me and the move has been good for me, too.
“As a team I think we’re getting to where we need to be. If we can start fixing our attack up we’ll be a lot better… but I’m comfortable with where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll keep getting better and that will improve the team.”
Ironically, it has been Carney’s partnership with another newcomer in Robson – who was unwanted by Parramatta following their signing of Chris Sandow this season – that has sparked Cronulla into life.
After two games in the less-familiar halfback role to start the season (for two losses), Carney has rediscovered his explosive running game since returning to the No.6 jersey and produced a typical moment of magic with his match-winning field goal against Penrith last weekend.
“I know it’s only early but it’s been good with Robbo there,” Carney said. “He has been a steadying influence for me. I can just focus on my own running game which has helped.
“I mean, it’s hard to read too much into it – we’ve only played three games together and I didn’t play any trials with him. It’s an early combination but even that’s a positive. Everyone has their own attributes and different ways of playing. ‘Robbo’ has his, and that seems to suit my game too.”
For Robson, the opportunity to partner a similarly explosive attacking player in Jarryd Hayne at Parramatta over the past three years has played a huge role in helping him adjust to life alongside Carney.
The former Eels halfback believes Carney was burdened by the added responsibility that comes with wearing the No.7 jersey during the opening rounds but has seen him return to his best since moving further out.
“Todd is playing a similar role to what Haynesy was at Parramatta,” Robson said. “He pretty much just lets me run the ship and then he chimes in and does his thing whenever he can and whenever he wants to. I think that has worked well for us.
“It quite suits my game as well. I like to organise the team around and give the side a bit of structure. That allows Toddy to play off the back of that and just play footy.”
“He has got a really good running game and he is quite strong at the line as well. It’s quite good to play that role and it suits my game to have a running five-eighth.”
The Sharks’ new halves pairing will face their toughest test yet when they face St George Illawarra this Saturday night in a blockbuster derby at Toyota Stadium and Carney said he was looking forward to the experience.
“It was the same sort of feel when we would play the Anzac Day clash against [the Dragons],” he said. “Every club has got one (a derby) and it’s exciting. When I was at the Roosters it was Souths, and now it’s the Dragons. They’re probably the yardstick for us to see how we’re really going.
“It will be a big test but at home on a Saturday night after three wins – it makes for a big night.”