As fresh starts go, there is plenty for Lewis Brown to be familiar with at Penrith this season.
Yet, although his move to the foot of the mountains has largely been an opportunity to reunite with his former coach Ivan Cleary, the 26-year-old has no intention of remaining the same player he was during his four years at the Warriors.
“For me personally, it’s about time I stepped up and played a more senior role,” Brown told NRL.com in the wake of the Panthers’ impressive Round 1 win over Canberra last Sunday, and with the scent of savaged first-round losers the Wests Tigers now in their nostrils.
“The past couple of years at the Warriors I’ve probably taken a back seat and let the other boys do it but I’m at a new club now and I believe we’ve got enough experience to go well.
“I think for me and also Sika (Manu) playing in the back row, it’s really important that we step up. We’ve played a few games between ourselves now and we’ve got a lot of international experience.”
After a tough initiation during his first season as Panthers coach in 2012, Cleary brought in Brown alongside the likes of Manu, James Segeyaro, Wes Naiqama, Mose Masoe, Dean Whare and Jeremy Latimore. Brown is also the first of Cleary’s former Warriors protégés to follow him across the Tasman, with forward Elijah Taylor set to join them in 2014.
Brown played 84 games for the Warriors and five Tests for New Zealand in 2011 but after a disastrous 2012 season that saw the Warriors slump from grand finalists to premiership also-rans, he knew it was time for a change.
“There were a few reasons that I decided to come here and obviously Ivan was one of those reasons,” Brown explained. “I was looking for a fresh start but also having worked under Ivan before, when you’re comfortable with a coach it makes things easier. You come to training each day knowing that he likes the way you play.
“But also, I just felt that I was playing a few positions at the Warriors. In the off-season it was pretty tough having to train in three or four positions. This year I’ve only had to train in one, which is the back row, so I’ve gotten to know that position a bit more. It’s something that I’m comfortable with.
“I just felt that I needed a fresh start in my career. Last year was tough at the Warriors and I was pretty disappointed with how my form ended with them. They were the club that gave me my start but hopefully this year I can start on the right note with the Panthers.
“I feel like I’m refreshed, I feel like I’m fitter and stronger than I have been. And the boys here, they’re a hard-working bunch of blokes and very humble as well. There are no egos out here. They keep you honest.”
Brown is quick to dismiss suggestions that Penrith face another tough year in 2013 following the loss of star duo Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon to Cronulla and the shock departure of Michael Jennings to the Roosters in January.
When it is put to him that many had already written the Panthers off, he replies: “Yeah, but they obviously don’t know what goes on between our walls! That’s just the way it is... Everyone is going to have their favourites and we don’t mind being the underdogs.
“But I think there is a new culture starting to build here at the Panthers. Everyone is starting to buy into it and now we want to see the results.
“I know we’ve got a young side, particularly out wide, but I think we’ve got a really strong forward pack and we’re the ones that I think can really dominate and get us going in the right direction.
“This year, we’d love to win a grand final but it’s about us making improvements each week. If we can take small steps in what we all believe is a big journey for us in 2013 – as long as we’re improving each week we’re happy.”
The Panthers began their season well with their 32-10 thrashing of Canberra and will consider themselves a great chance of making it two from two this Sunday against a Wests Tigers side that was surprisingly disjointed in their loss to Newcastle on Monday night.
“The important thing for us is to get that winning culture to give us a bit more confidence,” Brown continued. “Like I said, making those small steps each week will see us make those improvements.”
As for his early impressions of his new surrounds, Brown – who played lower grades for both the Roosters and Tigers – said he is already learning to love life back in Australia.
“I enjoyed my time at the Warriors but this is a new chapter in my life and so far it’s been awesome,” he said.
“I must admit I’ve been missing New Zealand a bit but the club has been great and the boys have been awesome welcoming me and my partner here. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve got the hunger back in my game and it hasn’t been too hard settling in.
“I live in the Five Dock area (20 minutes west of Sydney) so that’s probably been the hardest part – I travel nearly 50 kilometres each way – and the heat has also been pretty tough but I’ve adjusted to that.
“As for the training, slotting back under Ivan I know the way he runs the side and that’s made it an easy transition from New Zealand to here.”