How Leary rediscovered his love for league
Manly back-rower Blake Leary's strong start to 2015 can be chalked up to rediscovering his love for rugby league playing for the Northern Pride over the past two years.
The 24-year-old played two games for the Cowboys – one each in 2012 and 2013 – but never looked like cementing a first-grade spot behind a pack with plenty of depth.
A knee reconstruction in 2011 interrupted his development and a chat last year with his manager – who told him he had too much of a "party boy attitude" – was another wake-up call that helped Leary decide what he really wanted from his career.
Back-to-back Intrust Super Cup minor premierships, as well as the 2014 premiership and State Championship – in which Leary scored a try against the Panthers' NSW Cup side – boosted his profile, along with a call-up to represent Queensland Residents, eventually leading to a two-year deal with the Sea Eagles.
"My manager told me I sort of had the party boy attitude, it was an attitude thing, injury, I had a knee reconstruction, and just little things I think," Leary told NRL.com after scoring a try in the side's emotional win over the Storm in Round 2.
"I enjoyed my time at the Cowboys but there were just so many quality players in front and I didn't get the opportunities. I debuted at hooker – and I'm no hooker! I'm happy where I am here now, being given the opportunity to play in a position that I like and am comfortable playing."
Leary said the difference in his approach and performances hadn't come so much from ditching the parties – "I still enjoy a drink and socialise with mates, it's just in moderation and picking the right times" – but that a stint in Cairns as a development officer working 9-5 had been a "wake-up call".
"I loved working with the kids up there but that was sort of a wake-up call, I thought 'I want to play NRL and what do I have to do to get there?'.
"It was good to play football up there, under [former Northern Pride coach] Jason Demetriou, who I couldn't speak more highly of, he's the assistant coach at the Cowboys now doing some good things. I just found that drive and that love for footy again, I played Queensland Residents and got picked up by Manly from that."
Leary said it was "definitely a pleasant surprise" to have made the Round 1 team after telling NRL.com over the pre-season it had been his goal to eventually work his way into the full-time squad that travels each week.
"I didn't really expect to be in the first-grade side this early on but I'm loving it and this team is something special," he said.
"We've all pulled together, there's been stuff going on outside but you wouldn't know it from the inside, everyone's got each other's back out there and I think we showed it out there [against the Storm]."
He said when his name got picked for Round 1 against Parramatta it was a surprise, and then when centre Clinton Gutherson went down with an ACL injury early on he was forced play close to 70 minutes with fellow back-rower Tom Symonds shifted to centre.
"A few people were surprised – including myself – that I could actually push out that 70 in Round 1," he said.
Leary made 33 tackles in that loss to Parramatta, second-most in the match after Manly hooker Matt Ballin.
"It gave me a lot more confidence I suppose and now out there I feel confident with the boys around me," he said of his first-up effort.
"My fitness is good, I put on a bit of weight – I'm up around the 100kgs now, but I'm holding it well. I feel confident enough that I could, if asked to, play long minutes."
He only got 20 minutes in the win over Melbourne as injuries mercifully stayed away, but it was enough time for him to score a try off a precision Daly Cherry-Evans grubber.
"I'm just happy [to be] off the nudie! Two games in and off the nudie, can't ask much more!" he laughed, having dodged the dreaded end-of-season nudie run that awaits players who fail to score a try throughout a season.