It did not take Jesse Ramien long to feel at home in Newcastle – and at the Knights.
Though he was never exactly a fish out of water at the Sharks, the Dubbo-born Coonamble Bears junior concedes he is more comfortable in Newcastle’s "big country town" atmosphere after five years in Sydney’s "big smoke" at Cronulla and Manly.
The Knights signed Ramien to a two-year deal before the 2018 season even kicked off, clearing his head to focus on an eye-catching campaign for Cronulla.
He scored 10 tries in 20 games in his break-out season, earning him the Sharks’ Rookie of the Year award and little fist-pumps from Newcastle fans excited about his impending arrival and partnership with playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga.
"Since pre-season started, I feel like I’ve built up a good combination with the boys on the right side that I’ve been training with in Pearcey and [Shaun] Kenny-Dowall outside of me," Ramien told a media conference on Wednesday.
"So we’re all coming along really well and can’t wait to get out there and start playing some trials.
"I think physically and mentally, I feel the best I’ve felt. This pre-season has been a big one for me, being pretty much only my second year going into a full-time pre-season.
"I’ve learnt heaps and it’s been a bit different than it was at the Sharks, so it’s been really good.
"I’m a country boy from out in the bush so I’m loving it here in Newcastle. It’s got that country feel to it, not like Sydney but still big, so I’m absolutely loving the town.”
It's "different" to Cronulla? How so?
"We’ve got a younger squad here, and some older people in Pearcey and Glas [Tim Glasby], but I think we do a lot more training-wise, and intensity-wise it’s gone up a bit with the amount of training we do," he explained.
"Being young, I love it, and I feel fitter and stronger than I did last year so I can’t wait for the season."
The 21-year-old centre said elder statesmen such as Pearce, Glasby and fellow star recruit David Klemmer have allowed him to feel like one of the boys, not a hired gun.
"We’ve got a lot of older heads that have come here … so when we’re out on the field I’m just another player doing my job," he said.
Having played for the Junior Kangaroos in 2017 and Prime Minister’s XIII last year, then participating in the NSW Emerging Blues camp last month, Ramien has taken another giant stride down the representative pathway by being named in the Indigenous All Stars squad.
He was selected on the bench behind NSW Origin centres James Roberts and Latrell Mitchell, and will line up against Knights teammates Ponga and Danny Levi in the Maori squad at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on February 15.
Naturally, Ramien is determined to make the most of however many minutes he gets, knowing a standout performance will not harm his Origin chances. But he is certain the off-field experiences will be equally enlightening and enriching.
"I can’t wait for the All Stars game. I feel very honoured and blessed to be picked in that side," he said.
"It’s been a childhood dream of mine, ever since they started playing it, to make the All Stars side. Even if I don’t play, just going into camp and learning more about my culture and Indigenous heritage, so I’m just really looking forward to the week."
Ramien sampled that experience at the 2018 Koori Knockout in his home town last September, playing alongside Roberts for Kempsey Dunghutti Bloodlines.
"My family’s stoked. I’ve had all my family back at home calling me since they found out the news, and my old man and younger brother are going to come down for the game," he said.
"Since playing NRL, this will be my first representative team I’m playing in, and what better way to do it than in the Indigenous jersey. So if I get the opportunity to take the field next Friday, I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve and go out there and give it everything I’ve got."