Eels outside back Bevan French is hoping to channel his disappointment from last season into the impending trials and Indigenous All Stars fixture to prove he warrants consideration as the blue and gold No.1 this year.
French had the toughest season of his young career in 2018, with just five of his 18 matches coming in his preferred fullback spot (one of those restricted to two minutes due to a concussion).
Many of those games were played under injury duress and he was dropped late in the season after barely touching the ball in a round-20 loss to South Sydney followed by an up-and-down game in a win over the Titans.
"Personally it was a bit tough; I was pretty lucky the first couple of years there just being on the wing and just getting all good news [injury-wise]," French told NRL.com.
"I didn't really know how to take it at the time, it was a bit hard for me at times last year trying to deal with it all.
"We've done a lot with not only our footy training but also the off-field stuff this pre-season, how to cope with things like that and making sure we're just as right off the field as we are on the field. I'm looking forward to redeeming last year and I can't wait to get out there.
"I'm pretty good at the moment, healthy, it was a good pre-season and I think everyone's quite eager to get out there."
The Eels have plenty of backline options with a number of players who can play multiple positions; French is most likely vying with skipper Clint Gutherson for the fullback role with Gutherson just as adept at five-eighth or centre. Josh Hoffman, Will Smith and Blake Ferguson can also play at the back.
No decisions have been made yet and coach Brad Arthur will use the trials to assess the best combination.
That is good news for a fit-again French, who is set to get some minutes at the back in Parramatta's Intrust Super Premiership trial on Thursday night (for the Wentworthville Magpies against South Sydney at Ringrose Park) and he is set to line up at fullback for the Indigenous All Stars the following Friday night in Melbourne.
"We've been swapping around a bit, nothing's been locked down with positions so far, I don't think anyone is too sure where they're playing yet," French said.
"We don't kick off until the second week of March now so no one has sort of locked down a position yet.
"[Arthur] has given everyone things to work on but as far as positions go and who's starting where, it hasn't been spoken about."
Eels halves moving on from Norman
French also said he had not contemplated moving clubs in search of a better chance of a regular fullback gig with the Cowboys just one club who could potentially accommodate a fullback this late in the pre-season.
"At the moment I haven't thought much about it to be honest, the main focus was on trying to get the body right and being as fit as I can be, healthy as I can be leading into the season this year," he said.
"I'm off-contract this year as are quite a few of us. Towards the back end of the year we'll start looking at things a but more but at the moment it's all about trying to get my body right."
French has a golden chance against quality opposition in the New Zealand Māori and is relishing his first run-on start in the fixture and second overall.
Both his appearances have come as a late replacement – in 2017 Will Chambers pulled out due to the birth of his child while this time around Ben Barba was scratched after being sacked by the Cowboys.
"It was a bit of a shock waking up and getting the news but I'm excited to play, it means a lot to not only me but my family, our culture, it's a massive privilege to be able to represent our people next week," French said.
"I rate it very highly up there with representative footy, everyone wants to play State of Origin and things like that but this is pretty special to us and I can't wait to play.
"It's not all about footy, it's about off field things as well, we're trying to close the gap, we get out into the community and go to schools. It's all a fun time away, get to know each other a bit better."
French praised the new format, with the Māori side in place of the less-defined NRL All Stars.
"It will bring healthy competition into the match. Not to say the All Stars previously didn't look forward to the game but Māori is a bit like us, they're very proud of their culture so I'm expecting it to be quite physical and quite entertaining," he said.
"It's going to be quite intense, it's not going to be treated as a trial so it will be good to see where I'm at, what I need to work on and what I'm doing well so far."