The Bulldogs' next big thing arrives
Towering Bulldogs back-rower Shaun Lane has made a huge impact in just three games in blue and white but the 20-year-old says he is just trying to do justice to his rugby league-loving family built on having a go without mountains of natural talent.
Speaking after his man-of-the-match performance against the Storm at Belmore on Monday night, Lane said a single NRL game played by his older brother Brett on the Bulldogs wing back in 2012 inspired him to try and outdo his sibling.
Lane, at 198 centimetres and 110 kilograms, is already a formidable proposition for opponents despite his age, as attested by his 166 metres from 14 runs, five tackle breaks and two offloads on Monday.
He scored an early try charging onto a Trent Hodkinson pass at the line and helped create one for Sam Perrett shortly after with a good pass, and is doing everything right in his quest to claim the back row spot opened up by a season-ending injury to Tony Williams.
The Endeavor Sports High product grew up in Maroubra and played his junior football for the South Eastern Seagulls, but has been in the Bulldogs system for a while now, having played the two previous seasons for the Canterbury NYC side before joining the NSW Cup team this year.
"I'm feeling at home, everyone made me feel really welcome ever since I stepped up. All the systems are pretty much the same as the second grade so it was easy to slot in there," Lane said after his star turn at Belmore on Monday.
"In my first game Des told me, 'There's a spot on the bench here for you'. Every opportunity I've given my best and tried to take that. With 'Jacko' [Josh Jackson] out this week I pushed up into the starting role which was a great experience."
Asked what had inspired him on his path to first grade, Lane said his parents and family had been a huge help.
"Footy has been a big part of my family growing up; my uncle [Gary Ross] played a couple of first-grade games, my family had been a real bunch of tryers and goers but never had the natural talent, some might say.
"My brother [Brett Lane] got a game for Bulldogs a couple of years ago [in the] NRL, so he played one game and that's kind of inspired me to maybe push on a bit further than him. Rugby league's been a big part of my family and growing up.
"Every step I take I try and do them proud and give the best for my family in the future."
Lane's introduction to training with the top grade squad in 2015 had been "a bit of an eye opener" at first, he said.
"It was a lot more intense, with Des [Hasler] in your face and stuff it's a bit intimidating. After the first couple of weeks you kind of get used to it then you realise these blokes are just normal blokes like us and I felt if I got my opportunity I could step up and I think I'm doing my best at that."
The Storm game was Lane's third in the NRL and first time starting and he said it was faster than he was used to but that wasn't unexpected.
"I was expecting it to be a little bit faster and tougher [starting] and it was but it really played into our hands. We had a lot of the ball from the start and a lot of the momentum so by the time it got into the part of the game where I normally come on it wasn't too bad."
Lane also paid tribute to the vocal 16,764-strong Belmore crowd, readily admitting he has no memory of first-grade rugby league being played at the ground. Fair enough, considering he was three years old when the Bulldogs beat the Storm there in 1998, the last time the venue hosted a top grade game.
"It was amazing, I've never been part of a game with a crowd or an atmosphere like that," he said.
"I don't know how many people were there but it felt like 30 or 40 thousand. It was good all the Bulldogs fans came to Belmore and got behind us and I can't wait to play the next game here," which happens against the Sharks in Round 20 on a Sunday afternoon.
"It was a lot of lead-up and build-up to this game, obviously the spiritual home here at Belmore for the Bulldogs but I can't ever remember watching a game here. It's good to get back here and I can see why it's such a big thing for all the fans and all the players."
Lane is signed at the club until the end of 2016 and is happy to wait until next year to start worrying about penning a contract extension.
"I'm signed til the end of next year. Hopefully this year is really just concentrating on my footy and stuff, maybe next year start thinking about stuff like that, re-signing but I'll worry about that next year," he said.
Hodkinson had words of praise for his right edge partner after the dominant performance.
"[There aren't] too many players that can do what he's done in three games. Big future for Shaun so it's certainly onwards and upwards," Hodkinson said.
"He's outstanding, look at the size of him. You've just got to give him the ball and my job's not too hard, you've just got to give him some footy and he does the rest. He was outstanding tonight, obviously Man of the Match and well deserved. I'm glad I'm not tackling him!"
Hodkinson said it was a bonus that such a big forward had such good footwork at the line.
"He's got that late footwork which is to his advantage, he busted through, I thought his post contact metres were outstanding, he was carrying about two or three at times, really good for us tonight," he said.