It's reality TV like you've never seen it before. All the drama you would expect – yes, who gets the last bottom bunk in the luxury mansion is a BIG deal. But it's predominantly the action on the field that I loved about being a part of Channel 9's new series – The NRL Rookie.
Thousands of hopefuls tried out, eventually to be whittled down to 28 players, and in the first episode half get cut. It's brutal and it's tough, in fact it's just like a career in First Grade Rugby League.
I host the show, and despite often shooting overnight for hours on end, it has been one of the most exciting professional experiences of my life. Brad 'Freddy' Fittler is the head coach, and as you would expect, does a superb job. I loved watching him grow into the role and fall in love with his players.
Freddy is always passionate, but he takes it to a new level on this show. More than once he's reduced to tears as each week he essentially breaks someone's heart. For many of our aspiring competitors this show is their last chance of realising a lifelong dream. Sending someone home is heart breaking, and throughout the 12 weeks we're certainly never left in any doubt that every rookie wants to win so desperately.
I love the crop of young, and not so young, men who make up the final 28. I love that it isn't a group of teenagers with little life experience. The players are aged between 20 and 30, and all have their own story, and their own reasons for being there.
One thing Freddy and I worried about initially, along with backs coach Adrian Lam and forwards coach Mark Geyer, was the prospect of having a group of men who might look great on camera and have all the talk, but might struggle on the field. If they couldn't actually play rugby league, we acknowledged, we'd be in all sorts of trouble. I'm thrilled to report that our fears were compellingly allayed on the first game day at Penrith. There were multiple rookies who wouldn't have looked out of place in any current NRL team. Hugely relieved, we charged on and our expectations were only exceeded each week after that.
It's not just on the field that the boys had to prove their worth. A number of challenges tested everything from brute strength, endurance, mental stamina - think jumping head first off sky scrapers, being chained to a cage under water, and almost more terrifying than those two – 'The Shed'. Each week our rookies had sessions in The Shed with psychologist Kate Baecher. Nothing was off limits. They had to talk about teammates who had let them down, who or what might be annoying them in the house, rookies they thought weren't pulling their weight, or weren't being honest. On occasions things got VERY heated.
Even if you aren't a rugby league tragic, there's something for everyone in The NRL Rookie. You will all pick your favourites and hope like hell they make it through each week. You might find some of the rookies' quirks a wee bit irritating – and that's entertaining too, but I promise you, you won't be a passive observer! At the end of the series one of these aspiring athletes will join an NRL club, winning the ultimate prize in Australian sport and they might just be playing at your club next year.
So get in early and play 'recruitment manager' by following the journey of the game's next big thing, as he strives to follow in the footsteps of JT, Cameron Smith, Paul Gallen, Billy Slater and so on. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for our champion, and a rare opportunity each week for fans to witness the arduous, unique, and at times surprising journey that is the NRL recruitment process.
Erin Molan hosts The NRL Rookie. Follow Erin on Twitter @Erin_Molan
The NRL Rookie premiers on Tuesday, May 31 at 7.30pm on Go!
For more NRL Rookie video go to nrlrookie.com