The 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership season is already shaping up as make-or-break for Newcastle Knights recruit Josh Starling.
The ex-Sea Eagles prop had genuine fears his NRL career was already over during the off-season until Newcastle approached him on the first day of their pre-season.
Having signed a one-year deal at the Knights, the 26-year-old is prepared to let his football do the talking in hope of securing his future beyond this season.
Starling's arrival is a timely boost to the Knights' front row stocks considering the club's overall inexperience in the forwards, with prop Korbin Sims having been released from his contract on Friday.
"If I didn't take this deal, I wouldn't have been anywhere," Starling told NRL.com.
"With the quality of players the Sea Eagles had, there wasn't enough room to stay. Sydney is an expensive place to live and I just couldn't afford to stay at Manly on not much money.
"I'm turning 27 this year and the game is getting faster and stronger. The athletes are getting younger and bigger too which is scary. It's definitely a do-or-die year for me."
Having spent the past three seasons alongside Starling at Manly, fellow Newcastle recruit Jamie Buhrer believes Starling is already an important figure at the club.
"Starlo's exactly what we need in the middle of the ruck. He's incredibly aggressive, he's great in the ruck, he's a grub – but a good type of grub – and he's a bloke everyone wants to play with," Buhrer told NRL.com.
"He's featured in a few good systems and as a result his work ethic is great. It's been great for the Saifiti twins to see how he operates, as well as Josh King and Sam Mataora.
"There are a lot of front-rowers here who already look to Starlo and see what he does so he's definitely added a lot to our front row."
Starling believes the 2016 season was one of his best in the NRL despite the Sea Eagles opting to go in a different direction. He featured in Manly coach Trent Barrett's outfit 20 times last year and averaged 18.3 tackles and 83 metres per game.
Having played with Roy Asotasi, Nate Myles, Sam Burgess, Martin Taupau and Willie Mason throughout his 67-game career, Starling is keen to turn his focus to the Knights' younger talents.
"I've moved from two clubs where there have been heaps of players who had played over 200 games. It's something that I've became accustomed too," Starling said.
"It's a different environment now. These kids don't really have any bad habits yet because they're so young. They're raw, which is exciting."