Roosters rookie still flying high after NRL debut
His side mightn't have left Allianz Stadium with the win, but Roosters debutant Connor Watson is still buzzing after his first taste of NRL action.
The 19-year-old Holden Cup star managed 19 minutes against the Panthers, making eight tackles and nearly scoring with his only run of the game.
As the side's utility player, Watson had prepared himself for a second-half stint against tiring forwards, but was instead thrust into the action inside five minutes after five-eighth Jayden Nikorima left the field for a head assessment test.
He remained out there for roughly 10 minutes, holding his own against Penrith's monster pack, before returning at the death in search of the game-winning try.
"Obviously it was a bit disappointing to lose the game but it's what I've dreamt of my whole life so to be able to do that last night was amazing," Watson told NRL.com.
"I wasn't really expecting it [to come on so soon]. I spoke to ‘Robbo’ (Roosters coach Trent Robinson) before the game and he told me that he'd probably put me on around the 50th or 60th minute, but then I saw 'Jaydo' (Nikorima) go down and all the boys looked at me and said: 'you're on'.
"I was probably grateful that it happened that way because I wasn't sitting on the bench for ages thinking about it."
Watson said he was told of his selection at a meeting last week, although he wasn't sure at the time whether that news would be good or bad.
"I found out on Thursday morning just before training. Robbo called me into his office and just said 'can I have a quick chat with you?’ I thought I was getting in trouble for something.
"He said 'I've put you on the bench this week'. He wasn't sure where he was going to put me on. He said I could cover a range of positions from fullback, centre, hooker, halves or basically anywhere they needed me.
"It was a bit surreal I guess. I didn't really know how to respond to him. I was obviously stoked because it's everything I've been working for."
Watson wanted to break the good news to his family straightaway, but had one tiny obstacle to overcome before he could call his loved ones.
"I sort of just kept if quiet for the day and just trained and then rang my mum in the afternoon," he said.
"I rang my mum in the arvo and she was in the middle of the shopping centre and I reckon she almost broke down crying."
With his parents still living in Avoca Beach – and countless mates on the hunt for tickets – Watson said he will be forever grateful for the work done by the club to ensure those closest to him could be there to see him play.
"I was very fortunate because the club really looked after my family and friends," the Roosters rookie said.
"They put my mum and dad and nan and pop in a hotel for the past two nights so they got to stay down in the city. I had probably over 50 people here watching so it was amazing."
While she might have been the proudest person in his camp, Watson revealed to NRL.com that his mum wasn't the first person he talked to about being selected.
"Mum was the first person I called but the first person I told was 'Joey' Johns."
Watson has been working with Andrew Johns throughout 2016 and said the hours spent on the training paddock were starting to get results on game day.
"He's been through it all and he was the best at it," Watson said of the game's eighth Immortal.
"I've been working pretty hard with him on my game and I think it's come out in my game over the last few weeks especially in the 20s.
"We've been working on some certain things and I was able to do those things in the game so I think he was pretty stoked with that."
Watson said he was able to learn plenty about his own game after Monday night's encounter, and also picked up some tips from opposition halfback Jamie Soward who tormented the Roosters with four late line dropouts.
"Looking at the way Penrith played and the way Jamie Soward in particular kicked us into our own half was an eye-opener," Watson said.
"For me as a playmaker, what I can take out of that is how important ending your sets is, especially in conditions like that. He really put us in our corner last night and it was hard to get out."
Watson is hopeful of retaining his spot in the side for the blockbuster Anzac Day clash against the Dragons, but knows the final decision ultimately comes down to his coach.
"I hope so. I'm not sure at the moment but it's just up to Robbo," he said.
"I didn't get that many opportunities while I was on so if I get another opportunity then hopefully I can take the line on a bit more and just see what happens."
Aidan Guerra was particularly pleased with what his new teammate brought to the side, saying Watson looked at ease in first grade.
"He nearly scored with his first touch and that's the sort of player he is. He's high in intensity, you know what to expect, he's going to give it his all and you could really feel his presence when he was on there," Guerra said.
"He was thrust on earlier than what he would have expected, but I spoke to him after the game and he was happy out there.
"He didn't want to come off actually – he wanted to stay on when ‘Jaydo’ came back from his head knock – and that's the guy he is. He's enthusiastic and that's certainly what he brings to the side."