Josh Drinkwater scores for the Wests Tigers at the NRL Auckland Nines.

Tigers halfback seeks NRL redemption

Wests Tigers fans - from Concord to Campbelltown - meet the NRL battler who just won't quit. 

Three years ago, Josh Drinkwater was a point-scoring machine on the northern beaches with Manly – an old school halfback who knew where the ball needed to go and when it needed to get there. But he was deemed surplus to requirements because of a couple of kids by the name of Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Two years ago, he moved to Wollongong where he was painted as a possible saviour to a club reeling in the post-Wayne Bennett era.  But both parties continued to struggle, and he soon found himself in the Illawarra Coal League. 

Last year, he wound up in England in what became a direct swap for Michael Witt, and there he fought valiantly for a struggling London Broncos side that would eventually be relegated. 

And so last October he returned home to the Central Coast, without a club and without a slice of luck – yet he still doesn't regret a thing. 

"That time made me realise how much I wanted to come back and make it in the NRL," he told NRL.com. 

"We only won one game over there but most of the boys say it was a good year. It was really enjoyable and made me fall in love with the game again. It was tough getting beaten every week, but you learn a lot about yourself and the game. I wouldn't change it for anything."

London wanted him to help them get out of the Championship for the next two seasons, while Hull KR offered him a decent contract as well. But Drinkwater, 23, had some unfinished business in the NRL and he didn't need to be asked twice when new Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor came calling. 

"I was on the phone to my manager every second day asking for any news," he said. 

"I was very grateful when JT gave me the opportunity to come home. I definitely wanted to come back and have another crack at the NRL. Being away made me realise how lucky I was to have that chance in the NRL in the first place. I really wanted to come back and give it another crack."

No one can question his determination or commitment. 

Drinkwater makes a three-hour return trip every day, just to train and for his chance to reach the bright lights of the NRL again.

"The drive isn't too bad. It doesn't affect me too much and I get to go home at the end of the day. It takes around 90 minutes to get to training which doesn't faze me," he said. 

On Friday night in a trial against Parramatta in Alice Springs, he'll deputise for a prodigious talent that he was once supposed to be. While Luke Brooks soaks in an All Stars experience on the Gold Coast, Drinkwater begins another, longer road to the NRL, one he admits he first took for granted. 

"I'll come and say that – I was young. I'm a lot more mature now and realise what it takes to become a professional footballer," he said. 

"Down at the Dragons I was on my own and trying to learn on my own. I was lucky enough to go the Super League where I regained some self-confidence in knowing I can play at a first-grade level.

"Obviously Brooksy's played more first grade than me, and so has Mitch – he's played more NRL games. I know I'm behind those boys. JT told me straight away that Mitch and Brooksy were going to start the year in first grade. 

"I just want to come here, play good footy, and if something happens and JT calls my name, I've got to take my opportunity."