New Bulldog Rona moves for Hasler
The opportunity to learn from Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was the overriding factor that swayed new recruit Curtis Rona from signing a long-term deal with the Raiders last year.
And after just three months at Belmore, his desire to learn from the two-time grand final-winning mentor looks to have paid off with the former Cowboy set to be named on the wing for the club's season-opener against Penrith on Sunday week.
"Just look at his stats, he's been in two grand finals in the last three years. For me personally, I thought coming down here to Sydney would be the best development for myself," Rona told NRL.com this week.
"I wanted a new approach, because I'd seen how he turns players into superstars, and I just saw that as a pathway for myself. I've just seen his coaching abilities. I'm trying to put that into play and play some regular first grade."
In the first big contract of his career, the 24-year-old said it was a "tough" decision to shun the nation's capital as well as an offer to re-extend his stay in Townsville and instead move back to Sydney, where he last played as part of the Roosters under-20s team in 2012.
"There were a few clubs interested so it was a tough decision," he said. "I [had] made a decision on one team, and then I was still mindful of the other. It was a really tough decision to make to move down to Sydney. But I think it's the best decision I've ever made in my career so far."
Rona, who scored six tries in seven games in his rookie season with North Queensland last year, spoke glowingly of the Bulldogs as a team and as a club.
Asked what he was most impressed with by their pitch to him, he said: "Just the organisation that they have done here. You look at the Bulldogs brand and it's a well-recognised team.
"My family were another support for me too. They were saying it's a good opportunity for you to go down there, and be coached by one of the best coaches and play with some of the best players in the world. They told me to take on the challenge to come down here, even it was going to be a tough team to break in to."
With Brett Morris' acquisition forcing veteran Sam Perrett to the wing, Rona will compete with grand final flyer Corey Thompson for a spot on the opposite flank. In his advantage is the fact that he towers over his teammate by almost four inches in height and 10 kilograms in weight.
"There's a little bit of a height difference, but Corey Thompson's a wicked player. He's got a lot of heart and he really tries hard on the field every single time. You know you're going to get the best out of him," he said.
"I'm not too fussed about other players, to be honest. I just need to worry about myself, train well, train hard and I think I've done that this pre-season. You just never know what's going to happen for Round 1. Des won't tell us too much. We'll just have to find out when they name our teams, who's playing and who's not. But it'd be good for me to get a spot in the team somewhere."