Manly utility Jackson Hastings says he learned a lot from a tough final year at the Roosters and has taken a more professional approach to his football – which he says has also come with a complete attitude adjustment.
The 21-year-old takes full responsibility for not making the best of his chances at the Roosters, admitting things probably came a bit too easy when he first swept into first grade as a highly-touted 18-year-old.
However his final year at Bondi – tasked with guiding a struggling team around minus its senior half (Mitch Pearce was suspended for the opening eight rounds) alongside an even younger halves partner in Jayden Nikorima plus a rookie fullback in Latrell Mitchell – was a monumental challenge.
The usually confident Hastings admits self-doubt crept in as the side slumped to five straight losses to start the year and he was eventually dumped to reserve grade after Pearce returned.
The Illawarra junior got to the point he questioned whether he'd even play NRL again and it wasn't until a chat with Manly coach Trent Barrett and head of football Bob Fulton that he started down the road to overhauling his mindset
"I've learned a lot in the last 12 months," Hastings said.
"I've learned how to be a professional I think, that's probably the biggest thing I've taken out of all this. No matter what comes your way you've got to be professional and get on with the job."
Hastings has thrown himself into training and doing the best he can on field – whether that's in limited chances off the Manly bench as an interchange or wearing the No.7 for Blacktown Workers in the Intrust Super Premiership. For now, Hastings says he's happy doing either and just glad to be playing football.
"I just turn up here every day and give my best, I train my hardest, lift as much weight as I can. If I get a chance to play first grade I go out there and bust my bum and same as if I play for Blacktown," he said.
"I was 18, came in and everything sort of fell into place for me then I hit a bit of a hurdle and I've done a complete [turnaround] with the way I look at life and look at footy. I'm a real positive person now. I take everything with a grain of salt, go out there and do my best and have fun."
Hastings said there were times last year he'd lie in bed at night and wonder if his NRL career was already over.
"[There were moments] I thought I might not play first grade again and I'd have to wake up and slap myself. I was 20 years old, bought too much into what people were saying," he said.
"Probably when I signed with Manly [was when it started to change], 'Baz' (Barrett) and 'Bozo' (Fulton) were chatting to me and they gave me a lot of confidence and showed a lot of belief in me, told me I've got 10 or 12 years left in me, I'm not done yet.
"To hear that from two blokes like that, especially the bloke that's going to be my coach was unbelievable. He's been rock solid for me, Baz, the way he treats all his players is second to none, he's a real good people person and I appreciate everything he's done so far."
Hastings admits things got pretty tough as 2016 wore on but was full of praise for the way his fellow young Roosters, Nikorima and Mitchell, have handled themselves since that tough initiation to their first grade careers.
"It was tough… it got harder and harder as the weeks went on," Hastings said.
"We had Latrell and Jayden that hadn't played a grade game before that season started. We were 0-5 and that's when a little bit of doubt started to creep in and whatever happened, happened.
"Those two are really going good now, Jayden's been braining it in NSW Cup which is pleasing and Latrell's attitude's been really good with what he's had to go through. No doubt those two are going to play a lot of first grade, they're both outstanding talents."
For now Hastings is more than content being labelled a utility in his short first grade stints filling in at hooker and hopes to build on that game time in between steering Blacktown around in reserve grade.
"I sort of enjoy the utility role, a lot of people don't really like being labelled a utility but it's got its benefits for sure," he said.
"I see a lot of people write that I can't play here or I can't play there but I'm pretty comfortable playing most spots to be honest. Through the juniors I've played pretty much everywhere besides front row and wing!
"I'm enjoying coming off the bench and playing a hooker role in the ruck, I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of that at the moment so hopefully my minutes go up and I can keep contributing as best as I can."