Manly back-rower Justin Horo says being dropped to NSW Cup by coach Geoff Toovey has given him a much-needed wake-up call.
Having been given a chance by injury, the off-contract 28-year-old also hopes to re-establish himself in first grade with a view to earning himself a spot at the northern beaches past 2015.
Horo started the year off in NSW Cup with new recruits Feleti Mateo and Blake Leary in the back row. He got a call-up in Round 3 with Leary out injured and Mateo covering Kieran Foran at five-eighth, then was back in the Round 5 loss to Canberra with both Leary (back) and Mateo (ankle) out.
"Basically [Toovey] pulled me in before the start of the season and he thought just over the pre-season there were a few things I needed to work on.
"I went back to NSW Cup and tried to fix those things and I've got an opportunity two out of the last three weeks. I want to start in first grade so I need to do everything out in the training paddock to show that I'm still hungry and want to be part of the team."
He described his time in the lower grades as a "wake-up call" that also re-energised him.
"It's only because Feleti got injured that I got given an opportunity and I'm aware of that," he said.
"I'm really hungry, it was a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere when I went back there [to NSW Cup]. I really enjoyed my time – there are a lot of young boys that are really hungry and trying to make their first grade debuts and I really fed off that.
"I fed off their energy and it gave me a lot of energy in my performances down there and hopefully that helped me get back in the team this week but I've just got to keep working hard and go from there."
There is a lot of work today before Horo can start talking about extending his current deal.
"I finish [the current contract] at the end of the year so it's a big year all-round for me. I obviously still think I've got a couple of good years left in me.
"I want to get back and be playing first grade, it's what I've been doing for the last five years, it's what I want. I want to be going out there and doing the best for my team and that's where I'm at at the moment.
"I'd love to stay here – I can't focus on next year when I haven't even been getting in the team and solidifying a spot where I was at in the last couple of years so if I focus on those little things and get myself in the best shape now I think my future will look after itself."
Horo said the form of the Sea Eagles overall – one win in five games and currently last place on the ladder – was disappointing but the players can't drop their heads.
"I think everyone knows what they've got to do to get themselves out of this funk," he said.
"You can't be negative, you've got to be positive, everyone's got to look forward to the training sessions we've got in front of us and the week we've got ahead of us, we've got another big challenge [against Penrith on Saturday] and that's all you can do."
Like Manly, the Panthers have now lost three in a row, and Horo said both sides will be equally desperate.
"They started really well with two wins back-to-back and now they've got three losses in a row as well. They'll be feeling the pressure over there as well and both teams will be pretty desperate this week.
"I believe both teams are top-eight teams but at the moment we're not playing like it and this is where both teams have to fix it and figure out where they want to be at the end of the year."