Peats aims to learn some self preservation
Fearless Eels hooker Nathan Peats says it's time he got smarter about the way he puts his body on the line for the team given the huge number of impact injuries he's suffered since making the step up to a big-minute hooker.
The courage shown by the former Rabbitoh in throwing his body in front of far larger players dozens of times per match – as well as playing through and coming back from a raft of serious injuries – is beyond any doubt.
But with the 25-year-old not only a key man for his team but also starting to be spoken of in rep team conversations, he knows he needs to play both tough and smart from here on in after too many games on the sidelines.
Peats made his comeback on the weekend against Canberra after spending three weeks sidelined due to a dislocated elbow which came about when he flung his arm out low trying to stop rampaging Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo.
His 2015 season ended prematurely when he went low on another hard-running lock forward – Rooster Sio Siua Taukeiaho – and fractured a vertebra which required surgery.
The year before it was an ACL injury but Peats said even that was avoidable because he had been dazed in an earlier tackle meaning his technique wasn't what it should have been when he hurt his knee.
"I've probably just got to pick my times. The times [injuries have] happened I've probably picked the wrong times," he said.
"There's no need to try and shoot out of the line and do something in the 75th minute when you're winning the game or something.
"With Taumalolo, I've come from the sideline marker and tried to hit him hard around the legs and gone low when I could have been a bit more patient and waited for him to fall into the line and got him third man.
"Just things like that, I've got to learn. There are plenty of hookers who are tough and play the same way so it's just about maturing as a footy player and I've got to be a bit better."
When Peats was at Souths he was stuck behind first-choice hooker Issac Luke and would get limited minutes off the bench and also feature in the back row rotation but his move to starting hooker at Parramatta from 2014 has come with a drastically increased workload which has also changed his approach.
"Coming from Souths where my minutes would fluctuate, I'd play 80 minutes, 40 minutes, 50 minutes – and they're a really good wrestling team, Souths – I've come here where I've got a bit more freedom to tackle a bit more and it's probably getting my body used to playing 80 minutes week in week out and it's just all a learning curve.
"I'm fine, I've just got to be a bit smarter."
Peats is confident that that process is underway and he has matured significantly both mentally and as a player in his time at the Eels.
"I'm a lot smarter than I was when I first got here, physically I'm bigger as well, when I first got here I was a lot fresher coming from Souths. Obviously it takes a toll playing big minutes week in week out so you're not going to be as fresh at times but I think I'm a lot smarter between the ears, that's for sure," he said.
Reflecting on his ugly-looking elbow injury, Peats recalled wanting to go back on the field after the joint was put back in – then wanting to play every week since but getting overruled by club medicos.
"It was probably the most uncomfortable feeling I've ever had or been a part of, having it popped back in, but once it went back in I wanted to go back on the sidelines and let the fans and the members know I was all right," he said.
"I didn't want them to think it was a serious thing and I was keen to go back out but I don't think I was all there at the time.
"I was keen [to play the following week] but it was too painful to be honest. I was keen, but by the time it came around I was no good. I was trying to push for the Tigers game and I thought I was sweet but the staff didn't want me to. I only ended up missing three games anyway."
Peats's teammate Tepai Moeroa was happy to brand the rugged rake as one of the toughest players in the competition and said it was lucky for opponents he wasn't a bigger player given his take-no-prisoners approach.
"He's honestly one of the toughest in the comp. The way he throws his body around, it's ridiculous. I'd hate to see him in a bigger body, it'd be scary!" Moeroa laughed.
"That's just attitude, it's for the boys, if he goes down he wants to do whatever he can to get back out there and help the boys."