Revitalised Idris ready for next challenge
Wests Tigers recruit Jamal Idris has returned from his year away from the game refreshed and with a new lease on life ahead of the 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
The 26-year-old, who has played for the Bulldogs, Titans and Panthers, left rugby league to do what most people his age do in their mid-20s: discover themselves overseas.
It was a move that stunned many in the game, but one which was necessary according to Idris.
Signed by the Tigers on a one-year deal, Idris said that he had rediscovered his passion for rugby league following his prolonged absence from the game, but admitted he had no regrets about his eye-opening sabbatical from the NRL.
"A year away will do that for you, but also travelling, you get to see the world," he said.
"You don't have that 'what am I missing out on?' thought that's always sitting in the back of your head.
"When I first started, I was still in school. I didn't have time to see the world, travel the world and learn who I am in this world, and that's exactly what I did.
"I'm a big believer that everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their own path to walk, and this just happened to be mine."
While talent was never an issue, the 26-year-old openly admitted he struggled at times to handle the off-field challenge of being a professional athlete.
His time away changed his perspective completely.
"I wanted to get over the fact that people would stare at me. I wanted to know what they thought," he said.
"You travel to somewhere like India and I stick out like a sore thumb. You start to realise that maybe they're not staring at you because of football. Maybe they're staring at you because you're six-foot-five, black with dreadlocks.
"It's the little things that I had to learn about myself like being able to sit there in silence without having all this background noise, being able to walk around a group of people without being nervous and thinking 'what are they saying about me' or 'what are they saying behind my back?' or being in a crowd like this and being relaxed."
Now that he's back, Idris is ready to rip in for what will be his ninth pre-season in the NRL. According to the Wests Tigers recruit, this is the first one that he's appreciated.
"I was laughing the other day to my old man – I was sitting there saying 'this is the first time that I actually had a pre-season that I'm enjoying'," Idris said.
"I actually come to training and I'm happy to be here. There's a good vibe, especially with the younger kids.
"You come here to training and you remember what it was like being their age, all spritely and ready to go. They sit there and they look at you with a smile and there is nothing you can do but laugh.
"It's good to be running around. I guess it's like riding a bike with all the ball skills and all that.
"I've been training for the past four-and-a-half or five weeks which has really helped me a lot. I almost hit my PB the other day in our fitness testing, so I'm pretty happy about that."
The former Kangaroos and Blues representative said he wasn't focussing on higher honours at the moment, admitting those things would take care of themselves if he excelled on and off the field.
It remains unclear whether he will play in the centres or the back row, but given he played 120 of his 131 matches in the three-quarter line, it is more likely than not that he will play in the backs.
It's a topic Idris isn't worried about at the moment, nor is having to prove himself to the doubters who have questioned his return to rugby league.
"I'm not fussed really. Football's football. I'll play wherever they want me to play; it's all the same to me," he said.
"People are always going to say that I have to prove myself, but I don't have to prove myself to anyone but myself. That's who I'm here for, that's who I'm trying to prove myself to. This is a year for me to sit down and see how good I can be."