Cowboys winger Curtis Rona jumped out of the blocks in Saturday night’s win over South Sydney with a couple of inspirational athletic feats to facilitate his inside mate Matthew Wright’s two tries.
First it was a perfectly placed cross-field chip from Johnathan Thurston in front of Rona, who used his 195cm frame to simply out-size Nathan Merritt and get first hands to the ball; next was where he really showed what he was capable of, reading a deft Michael Morgan grubber kick before a stunning dive at full stretch to flip it back inside to Wright.
Coach Paul Green’s plan to exploit the 22-year-old’s physical mismatch worked wonders against the much smaller Souths outside backs and is something the Cowboys could possibly apply again next week against Rona’s next match-up, with St Geoarge Illawarra's Jason Nightingale.
“Greeny said all week that we should target (Merritt) for the whole game and every time we got close to their line, we should always put him under the pump,” the league’s newest aerial specialist told NRL.com.
“(Thurston is) always good. He’s always putting it on the mark so all I have to do is get there... he does all the hard work.”
The six-gamer says he cannot afford to look too far ahead if he wants to keep his first-grade spot and adds he finds it helpful to glance in the rear-view mirror.
“Coming up through the Under-20s there’s a pecking order and you know you’re at the bottom when you first come into the main team, so something has got to give. Looking back at how hard I have worked to make the team is good, it’s a reminder of how hard I need to work all the time,” Rona said.
“You have got to put your head down and arse up and just train your heart out and hope for the best because you never know what’s around the corner. That’s what Greeny says to us, he says you never know what’s around the corner so you need to be prepared. You need to train and play like it’s your last, so we’re taking that mentality on board now.”
When asked about who has helped him on his road to first grade, Rona did not hesitate to heap praise on both Green and veteran outside back Brent Tate.
“I’m thankful for Greeny giving me a shot actually. I’m really, really grateful because last year I was in the mix and I just didn’t get that (game) time and Greeny came up here and gave it a new look and ever since pre-season, I’ve wanted that spot and I was lucky enough that he gave it to me,” he said.
And in a cruel twist of fate, it was actually the season-ending injury to Tate that opened up the weekly spot for Rona to occupy.
“Tatey is a big, big loss for any team he plays in. He’s done everything in the game and I want to learn off him. He showed me the ropes and I’m fortunate enough to get another crack at first grade, but it is at his expense,” Rona said.
“He has always been a big bull so he always wants to stamp his name on the team - and so he should because there are some new players fighting for spots and positions and his guidance is always a help. He’s been a great help to me.”
Standing at a solid 6’4” in the old and weighing in at 100kg, Rona forms the spitting image of Roosters skywalker Daniel Tupou, but the young Cowboy is not looking for a comparison; he is instead hell-bent on making it to the big time his own way.
“I get that comparison [with Tupou] a lot, but I’m my own player. I will be my own self and make a name for myself and not get too caught up in replicating other guys.
"I will learn off a few players and that, especially with the help coaches and film sessions, but it’s all about me. I need to focus on myself and what I do well.”