The quiet achiever of the Canterbury pack since making his debut in the midst of their run to the minor premiership last year, back-rower Josh Jackson says he finally feels that he belongs alongside the club’s plethora of big-name stars.
As the Bulldogs travel to Townsville for a tough outing against North Queensland’s much-vaunted forward pack on Saturday, Jackson said the club’s difficult start to the year – when key big men James Graham, Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano were all unavailable through injury and suspension – taught him an invaluable lesson in what’s required to become a consistent NRL performer.
“The big thing for me this year was to knuckle down and try and cement a first grade spot and become a consistent first grade player,” Jackson said.
“It was always a dream of mine to play NRL and to get that opportunity last year was pretty special, particularly to play in the grand final which was a big thing for me. But it all went pretty fast – it’s amazing to look back on everything that happened.
“I was happy with how I went but I was also new to it all and after it finished… as I said, I really wanted to nail that regular first grade spot this year and I feel like I’ve done that now. I feel like I sort of belong there.”
Asked how he felt about his performances during the early rounds when the Bulldogs won just one of their opening seven games, Jackson said: “I think we all could have played a bit better. We just started off a bit slow. I still think the little things like not completing and giving away penalties was the main problem. Obviously those players we were missing do help out a lot with our go-forward and our ball-playing ability too.
“But we’ve fixed that now and to be honest this year has been great. I’m loving just playing footy and hopefully I can do as well as I did last year.”
Jackson’s emergence as member of the Bulldogs pack last season alongside good friends Martin Taupau and Dale Finucane was one of the success stories of the year, but he knew he faced a tougher challenge to hold his place in 2013 following the arrival of NSW and Australian back-rower Tony Williams. Rather than limit his time on the field however, he continues to average around 64 minutes per game – almost identical to last year – and has even upped his average metres and tackles.
“The only difference is that my role has changed a little bit,” Jackson explained. “Once Frank came back (from injury) – with him and Tony Williams in the team my role changes. I play a little bit in the middle of the field as well as on the edge now. But I’m just happy to get the run and with those two blokes there I’m happy to do whatever I have to do.”
While coming so close to winning a premiership in his debut season last year was tough to take, Jackson said he had no problem getting motivated to start all over again in 2013.
“It was pretty easy, to be honest,” he said. “I think everyone was pretty keen to get back after the grand final loss, put in the hard work and try and turn it around this year.
“It took us a while to really get going again but the past two weeks in particular our possession rate has been a lot better and that has helped us a lot (74 per cent completions against the Dragons and 74 per cent against the Broncos).
“I think we’re still a little way off getting back to where we were last year but we’re getting back on track to that.
“If we win this week we could be back inside the top eight which is always a good position to be in and hopefully we can then start to work our way back towards the top of it.”