Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein.

Winterstein not short of motivation in contract year

He is off contract, has a posse of young North Queensland Cowboys wanting his position and his battle-scarred body has been battered from pillar to post.

But Antonio Winterstein brings true meaning to what "mental toughness" really means and is up for the challenges.

The 29-year-old winger carried a rib cartilage injury, a dodgy groin, as well as hamstring and wrist complaints into the grand final and was one of his side's best in the loss to the Melbourne Storm. His motto of "if you can walk, you can still play" applied.

Winterstein is off contract at the end of next season, but he knows only too well what it is like to have an uncertain playing future.

That was his lot when he left the Sydney Roosters after several seasons in the under 20s. He arrived at Intrust Super Cup side Easts Tigers and got a train-and-trial opportunity with the Brisbane Broncos in 2009, but with no promises.

He impressed no end, played every game for Brisbane and never looked back.

"Not knowing what you are you going to do at the end of the year coming off contract is always daunting, but it gives you extra motivation to work hard and prove you are worthy of another contract," Winterstein told NRL.com.

"After the 20s comp I went to Easts and got the opportunity to train with the Broncos. I believe if I didn't make it that year I never would have

"That [contract] uncertainty I use as extra motivation to put myself out there and showcase what I've got."

Winterstein is motivated to provide for his family – wife Brooke and three young daughters, Milana, Harlan and Novah.

The presence of young stars breathing down his neck is another motivating factor.

Former Australian Schoolboys gun Gideon Gela-Mosby heads the list. Enari Tuala played Junior Kangaroos this year while Javid Bowen has already proven himself in the Telstra Premiership.

Winterstein said their looming presence reminded him "not to be complacent and comfortable".

"Those young boys make you work harder and be better than you were in previous years," he said.

"If they were at any other NRL club they'd be playing first grade easy and they haven't looked out of place when they have come in and played first grade. They've done their job and more."

Winterstein's father Vincent played for Western Samoa, his cousins Evarn and Carlos Tuimavave played in the NRL and his uncles Antonio and Paddy Tuimavave represented the Kiwis and Western Samoa.

Watching his father as a youth in Auckland has inspired Winterstein to play through pain, as he did in the grand final.

"That is just the nature of our heritage," he said.

"I have seen my father play with battle scars and broken arms as well. I am not one to step down from a fight. I believe if you can walk you can still play.

"There are three or four boys who battled through the season with worse injuries so I am pretty sure I got off lightly."

Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein.
Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos/NRL Photos

Cowboys assistant coach Josh Hannay conceded it was well documented the Cowboys were "playing busted" at the back end of the year but added there was a lot of detail never publicised about the full extent of their injuries.

"I thought his grand final was his best game of the year. Somehow he summoned the courage and will to play the way he did," Hannay said of Winterstein.

"I don't know if he is indestructible because he does get hurt a bit. But he has the mental capacity to play through injury. Some guys need to be 100 per cent fit to take the field and do their best but there are guys like Antonio who have the capacity to play their best at 60 per cent and overcome those hurdles.

"Antonio is resilient, just very physically and mentally tough."

There are limits to what a body can take and although he wanted to play with Samoa at the World Cup, Winterstein said it would have been selfish on his part to do so when fully fit players were available.

Now refreshed after a break and back at pre-season training, when Winterstein takes the field in 2018 you can be sure his heritage will also be driving him on.

"Going to my uncles and my father's training sessions and games was something I'll never forget and one of the reasons I do what I do today," he said.