New Knight Herman Ese'ese pushing for starting spot
Canberra Raiders trio Junior Paulo, Joey Leilua and Josh Papalii returned from the World Cup in terrible shape but Samoan teammate Herman Ese'ese used experience to control himself before he joined the Newcastle Knights for the first time at training on Monday.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was critical of the way his Samoan representatives returned from the World Cup, saying they were overweight and lacked control with their diet during the six-week tournament.
One of the stronger performers in a less than desirable campaign for the Pacific Island nation, Ese'ese had been in a similar situation when he blew out to 128kg during his time at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2015. That experience taught him the lesson of maintaining a healthy diet.
"All the boys got stuck into the buffet, I tried to cut it down and not eat as much as I could," Ese'ese said.
"I looked after myself during the World Cup campaign and hopefully I turned up [to pre-season] in pretty good nick.
"It was a good experience for myself and first World Cup. I had four weeks off so am a bit rusty in the fitness department but I can only get better."
Ese'ese ran more than any other Samoan forward in the tournament and averaged 105 metres with 24 tackles.
The 23-year-old giant's decision to join the Knights in July created a stir with Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett less than impressed with the prop's decision.
"I sat down with him after it was all confirmed and he was disappointed [but] I feel like this is the best decision for me to establish myself as a player," Ese'ese said.
"He said don't change anything and to go down there and keep working hard, keep doing you.
"Since I got there I learnt so much for him and got to soak up as much as I could from him.
"[Moving to Brisbane] was a massive impact, the likes of Sam Thaiday, Adam Blair and Josh McGuire, they took me under their wings as soon as I got there on day one.
"I was like a sponge trying to soak up as much as I could. Hopefully I can help all the other forwards here [at Newcastle]."
Newcastle are set to enter next season with experienced prop Jacob Lillyman and promising forward Daniel Saifiti fighting for a starting spot but Ese'ese is so keen to not fall behind he returned to pre-season training early after just a month off following World Cup duties.
"A starting spot is something I'm aiming towards so I will give it everything," Ese'ese said.
"That's entirely up to Browny (Nathan Brown) and depends how good I go in pre-season and in the trials as well.
"I feel like the club has done a great job building up a roster and obviously having Mitchell Pearce here with his experience … he's a high-profile player and played State of Origins and grand finals.
"It's kind of different adjusting to the lifestyle here in Newcastle and meeting new boys. I think that's more exciting. All the new boys are in the same boat."
Ese'ese is one of the final recruits to join the squad for pre-season training with experienced veteran Chris Heighington set to start with the Knights on Wednesday.