Heading into his 17th NRL match, Bulldogs try-scoring ace Curtis Rona is preparing to face off for the first time against the club that cut him loose after a promising two-and-a-half year stint in their junior system.
The New Zealand-born, Perth-raised 22-year-old headed east from Western Australia to join the Roosters NYC squad in 2010, but moved to the Cowboys in 2013 after being deemed surplus to requirements by a Bondi club that was fairly well-stocked in the outside backs, with the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Joey Leilua in first grade and Tautau Moga and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on the way up.
Readying himself for his first meeting with the club in the NRL, Rona admitted it was disappointing to be let go by the club but is happy with the path he took that has led him to the Bulldogs as 2015's equal top try scorer, with 10 tries from nine games.
"It's a good club, it was a good place, good environment at the Roosters; it was tough because I'd been there for two and a half years and I had to open my eyes up and say 'people can't all stay at one club'," Rona said of his departure from Bondi.
"I was [disappointed] about it but moved on... I wouldn't be where I am today [otherwise] so I'm pretty happy where I am now."
Rona played with the likes of Dylan Napa, Kane Evans and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in his time with the Tricolours, and this Friday will line up against his old mates for the first time in the top grade.
"They were all good mates while I was at the Roosters," he said of the trio.
"They're quality players, and I know them really well... they were good guys, and always there whenever you needed a helping hand."
Rona was a centre all through his junior years and only moved out to the wing at NRL level, where he has played all of his 16 games to date but feels like he has adapted well, and been able to improve in his time at Belmore.
"I was playing centre [for the Roosters] but in my NRL career, I've just played on the wing so it's been pretty interesting because I never really played wing – but it was pretty easy to pick up. It's pretty much like playing centre but obviously on the wing you've got to catch the ball a lot more.
"I think I've stepped it up a lot for the first couple of rounds and pretty happy where I'm at currently but there's a lot of improvement in myself and the team as well so like I said before I couldn't be happier being where I am, I'm enjoying every second of it."
Rona is currently scoring at a rate of one try per game over his NRL career, with six in seven games for the Cowboys making it 16 in 16 games all up. He laughed that his family lets him know if his strike rate dips below 100.
"I get nagged by my family, one time I'm not on the 100 per cent strike rate they start saying 'oh you didn't score this weekend' and I was like 'oh yeah, I didn't score, I have to make it up next week'," he laughed.
But he knows he'll be up against it to add significantly to that tally this week against a Roosters side that only let in one try in 80 minutes against Wests Tigers in Round 9.
"They're a good team, they won a comp a few years ago, we'll do a bit of video on them and see how their defensive structures are and see what systems they have in place that we can overcome and break that line and hopefully score a few tries!"