Knights cult hero's persistence pays off
Through all the trials and tribulations during his rugby league life Nathan Ross has come out the other side as an NRL player and perhaps even a better man.
The Newcastle winger's story is one of persistence which he threw on the line at the end of 2013 when he sacrificed full-time work as a health and safety inspector so he could participate in his maiden first grade pre-season at the Knights.
There were no guarantees, yet in the 18 months since Ross has so far garnered 11 NRL games, almost guaranteed a first grade wing spot every week and earned a cult following on social media.
After years of plying his trade in local and reserve grade leagues Ross is grateful for the belief shown in him by the likes of Knights coaches Nathan Brown, Mick Potter and Danny Buderus – the latter in particular for handing him his NRL debut in Round 21 last year at the age of 26.
"At 22 [in 2011] I was playing local league and that came after being the top try scorer in the Queensland Cup the year prior. Nothing came of it so I kind of threw the towel in because I wasn't rewarded for my great individual efforts," Ross told NRL.com.
"My lifestyle away from footy probably wasn't as dedicated anymore either so I decided to travel down a work path which when I got to that and when I had a young fella I was like: 'You know what? I've been given a gift and I have to try my best with it'.
"I made a lot of sacrifices off the field and it's starting to pay dividends now. I'm very grateful and it's super exciting that every day I wake up and get to train and play for a living instead of getting up and going to work."
You'll find however – due to the late start of his NRL career – a weird dynamic that Ross now finds himself in.
The fifth-oldest in the Knights' 17 that beat the Wests Tigers in Round 6; Ross was also the sixth-most inexperienced.
If regulars Robbie Rochow, Sione Mata'utia and Danny Levi weren't ruled out late on Sunday it would have meant only Pat Mata'utia and Jacob Saifiti were less experienced than the unfazed 27-year-old.
"In terms of the NRL I am inexperienced but in terms of the duration I've actually played football for I'm probably just as experienced as most. I think that helps me keep a cool head on the field," Ross said.
"I've played in local grand finals, reserve grade grand finals and in reserve grade representative teams so now coming up to the NRL I'm a lot more relaxed than perhaps someone else who has 11 games under their belt.
"Just getting out there and doing my job for the team is the most rewarding thing. I've adjusted to the wing now after playing fullback and centre previously and I'm trying not to overplay my part," Ross added.
"I'm just getting in there and doing what needs to be done as well as bring some energy in for the boys. I'm not going to let go of this opportunity now."
Thanks to his success on the field Ross's social media presence has grown exponentially over the past two seasons. It has become his way of giving back to rugby league fans such is his appreciation for their support.
Ross is one of the most active NRL players in terms of fan engagement on Twitter and Instagram and is quick to encourage fellow first graders to follow his lead.
"People if they want to make a comment – good or bad – that's OK. They pay their money to come and watch the games so they're entitled to their opinion. I'm just as grateful for them talking to me as I am to them," Ross said.
"I think it is great interacting with the fans. A lot more footballers should actually do it because when I was younger I used to come to NRL games and watch. I know what it's like for players to give their time back to fans.
"I've always wanted to be one of those guys who gives up his time to those who come and watch. Without them we wouldn't have the sport."