The Wests Tigers raised a few eyebrows with the signing of experienced winger Pat Richards ahead of 2014, but after a strong year the 32-year-old now says he is keen to extend his stay at Concord past 2015.
Initially it was hard to see how the 2005 premiership winner was going to force his way past young guns David Nofoaluma and Marika Koroibete into a first-grade spot when he arrived at the club. But by mid-May Richards was a massive factor in the side's unexpected position inside the top eight and was being spoken of as a possible Origin debutant, and shortly after that Koroibete was on his way to the Storm.
While injury carved a swathe through the Tigers' stocks in the outside backs late in the season, with Richards joining Nofoaluma, James Tedesco, Keith Lulia, Tim Moltzen and others on the sidelines, the veteran says the body is now feeling good and he can't see any reason why he can't play on past his current deal, which expires at the end of 2015.
"The body's going really well at the moment, I just get through the back end of the pre-season," Richards told NRL.com shortly before the Auckland Nines. A minor back strain which caused him to miss the side's final Nines match last weekend isn't expected to trouble him into the season proper.
"I'm in the last year of the contract," he said. "I'd like to keep playing as long as I possibly can, as long as I'm enjoying it which I still am at the moment. I'm loving being here at the club and I think we're going in the right direction.
Richards said the example shown by now-retired Rabbitohs winger Lote Tuqiri, who won a premiership at the age of 35 last season playing in a position now dominated by youngsters, proved there was no age deadline to retire for a modern winger.
"Not if you're playing well," he said.
"Lote towards the back end of last year was playing really god footy and really deserved his spot and was a big part of their premiership win. As long as I'm playing good footy and enjoying it, I'll keep going as long as I can."
Richards said he had hardly missed a session over the pre-season and with other teammates also getting back on deck there was great competition for spots in the outside backs at the Tigers.
"We just need to start playing footy now and get back into it," he said.
"It's just about working well as a unit, there are some good exciting young outside backs and some really good young guys throughout the squad actually, it's exciting for an older guy to come down and see all these young guys. Every day's enjoyable to go out and train.
"'JT' [new coach Jason Taylor] and the coaching staff that have come in have been very professional, all the boys are really jumping on board with the stuff they're throwing at us. It's really enjoyable but I think everyone's keen to jump into footy now."
Richards said all the players had moved past a disruptive finish to 2014.
"There's no point dwelling on the past, it's about getting better as individuals and a team. We need to start the season well, that's a key for us. We showed some glimpses last year of what we can do but it's about consistency week in week out, backing that up every week. It's a tough competition but if you can be consistent you can get some results."
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