Penrith Panthers back-rower Bryce Cartwright put the NRL on notice at the Auckland Nines last weekend – and the rising star says he's fitter than he's ever been after his first full NRL pre-season.
Unlucky not to be included in the Nines team of the tournament, Cartwright exhibited the confidence instilled in him under new coach Anthony Griffin by producing four memorable try assists.
A year since his last pre-season was spent mending a horrifically broken ankle, one which had doctors questioning whether he'd ever play again, Cartwright's perseverance has shown over the summer months.
"It's my first full pre-season in first grade so I think I get a lot of confidence out of training hard and getting all the kilometres in the legs so I'm definitely excited for the season ahead. I'm feeling strong and as fit as I've ever been," Cartwright told NRL.com.
"Earlier in the season we have all these times that we have to make and stuff like that, so I've been reaching those goals, and I have goals for myself too. They being to train as hard as I can every session and get through it all fit and healthy.
"I've had a great base of support at home and at the Panthers as well so if I didn't have those two support bases I wouldn't be standing here. I'm 100 per cent fit now so all credit goes to those two aspects of my life."
Most Panthers will get a run in the club's trial against the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon – with Griffin naming a now 29-man line-up.
Following Will Smith's call-up to the Indigenous All Stars late Friday afternoon, Penrith will be without him as well as fellow All Stars Trent Merrin, Tyrone Peachey, Jamie Soward and Leilani Latu.
With Reagan Campbell Gillard (cork) and Andy Saunders (hamstring) the only two injured players on the roster, it means almost every member of the Panthers' squad will get a run against Des Hasler's men.
"I think I'll try and get out 40 minutes – that's the plan. We have two teams playing out there and most of our edge back-rowers will play 40 minutes each so everyone will get to showcase what they have got on Saturday," Cartwright said.
"It'll keep everyone on their toes because we're all fighting for very few spots so you have to be better than one another. They're all really good players so it's going to be hard to lock down a place in the 17."