A candid Mitch Rein has opened up about his departure from the Dragons at the end of last season, and hopes a change of scenery to Penrith will help bring out his best football after what he described as "tough times" at the Red V.
Rein's 132-game career at the Dragons didn't end the way he envisaged, with the 26-year-old dropped to the bench four times at the backend of the season, before the club decided to not renew his contract beyond 2016.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Kiama Knights junior, but he hopes a move to Sydney's golden west will sweeten what had been an otherwise disappointing year.
"I was looking forward to a change at the end of the year. Things didn't work out the way I would have liked at the Dragons, and I didn't have the best year. Now I'm really looking forward to learning new things here and improving as a player," he said.
"It was getting pretty hard. There were some tough times there, if I'm being honest, at the Dragons. A lot of the boys were feeling that as well.
"Coming out here is a completely different environment. It's a huge change for me. Growing up as a local junior down there at the Dragons, and then coming out west – I think I'd only been here like six times just to play, and that's it.
"It's a massive change, and to get outside your comfort zone is something I'm really looking forward to and hopefully it can get the best out of me."
Off contract at the end of last season, Rein wasn't sure where he would be playing until he received a phone call from Panthers General Manager of Football, Phil Gould.
"It just kind of happened really quickly. After speaking to 'Gus', it was pretty positive and he gave me a lot of confidence that coming here was the right decision," he said.
However, it wasn't just Gould's influence that helped bring him over to Penrith.
Rein revealed former Dragons teammate Trent Merrin had been in regular contact about how good life was at the foot of the mountains. His sales pitch clearly worked, and Rein is now staying rent-free with the Kangaroos representative.
"Everything he said from the start – even talking to him throughout the year since he came here – [I could tell] how happy he was," Rein said.
"It gave me a lot of confidence. It's good to see him go so well. To see him turn it around and enjoy his footy so much gives me a lot of confidence that hopefully I can do the same thing and improve like he has."
A circumspect Rein said he hadn't spoken to Panthers coach Anthony Griffin about specific roles for 2017, but was well aware that a starting spot was far from guaranteed given Peter Wallace's performances in the No.9 jersey last season.
Instead of worrying about the positional battle, Rein said he would use the fight for spots as motivation to improve; something he said was a recurring theme at the club.
"My first goal is just to train as hard as I can and prepare as best I can for the year, and then to just get into the team somewhere. Whatever role that is, so be it, but my first goal is to do everything I can at training to get ready," the 26-year-old said.
"I've noticed here there is a lot of competition for spots. That's probably why they went so well last year.
"Everyone is pushing each other to get into the team and you've always got to be on your toes. It's always a good thing when there's lots of competition for spots because it gets the best out of players."
The Country representative said he was looking forward to being a part of a Penrith squad that wasn't afraid to throw the football around; something he said wasn't always part of the game plan at the Dragons.
"I remember texting one of my mates watching them (Penrith) play in the semi-final and going 'how good are they? This is awesome'. To find out I'm going to be a part of that next year, I'm really looking forward to it," he said.
"Everyone was talking in the media about how good it was to watch people play footy again and watch teams play what they see, so it's going to be a good thing to be a part of.
"Over the years the Dragons have played so many different types of footy. Last year wasn't very enjoyable attacking-wise. I know it was pretty well-documented that it was pretty boring and it wasn’t working out very well down there.
"Coming here to an attacking team is going to be awesome. It's been a while since I've had the chance to do that."