Veteran winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall has learned some valuable life lessons throughout his 12-year NRL career with the Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters.
The 31-year-old Kiwi international will pass on some of that knowledge to his Newcastle team-mates after being named last week in the Knights' leadership group.
Coach Nathan Brown announced Mitchell Pearce as captain at the club's season launch but also named an inner circle of four senior players: Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra, Jamie Buhrer and Tim Glasby. Those players were voted into those positions by their team-mates.
"I think that's the ultimate compliment, being voted in by your peers. Obviously I’m very proud to be a part of that group and amongst some great leaders at this club," Kenny-Dowall told a media conference in Newcastle after training on Monday.
"We're looking to create a good platform for some long-term success at this club."
On the field, among his 254 games at the top level, the rangy right winger has experienced the ultimate high of winning a premiership with the Roosters in 2013.
Four years earlier, he was a member of the Roosters team that ran last, and he went on to secure another wooden spoon after joining Newcastle midway through 2017.
In 2010, as well as playing in the Roosters' beaten grand final team, he played a key role in helping New Zealand win the Four Nations tournament, was judged New Zealand Rugby League’s Player of the Year and was Golden Boot runner-up behind Kiwi countryman Benji Marshall.
The resilient finisher has scored 131 tries in the NRL – fourth among active players – and has set his sights on playing long enough to reach the 300-game milestone.
Away from the game, he created unwanted headlines for himself in May 2017 when he was charged with cocaine possession and the Roosters sacked him after 10 years of service.
He pleaded guilty in Downing Centre Local Court in June that year and escaped conviction, because there was no evidence that he used the drug.
The Knights threw him a lifeline one week later, signing him until the end of this season, and since arriving in Newcastle he has emerged as a mentor to his younger team-mates.
"It's both – it's the complete package," Kenny-Dowall explained of his leadership role.
"It's on-field performance and consistency week in, week out, but it's also leading by example off the field and creating that good culture and environment to create a winning team.
"You do the best you can for the team, and that's going to vary from week to week, but I'm pretty clear on my role as a winger and what that requires me to do every week, and that's my focus going into every game."
Kenny-Dowall, who is off contract at the end of this season, has recovered from an ankle injury and declared himself a certain starter for Newcastle's season-opener against Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
He missed their 30-6 loss to the Sharks in a pre-season trial at Maitland on March 2 after rolling his ankle at training earlier that week. After spending several days in a protective "moon boot" to aid in the recovery process, he convinced himself and coaching staff of his fitness at training last Saturday.
"I had a big session on Saturday to get the tick and I passed with flying colours, so I can move into this week confidently, knowing that I'm not in any doubt," he said.
Kenny-Dowall will play on the right wing outside former Sharks centre Jesse Ramien, who will make his Newcastle debut against his old club.
"We've been working hard all pre-season and I think we're pretty comfortable with where we're at," he said of his developing combination with Ramien.
"We've got a lot of confidence in each other and we're looking forward to getting out there and putting that into play."
Buhrer, meanwhile, said his responsibilities would not change despite no longer being co-captain.
The former Manly-Warringah utility has been part of Newcastle's leadership group since arriving in 2017, and he was co-captain alongside Pearce last year.
"My role won't change from last year or the year before," Buhrer said.
"I'll say something if it needs to be said – I don't like to talk just for the sake of talking – but I feel as a senior player, it's my obligation to make sure I'm helping the younger players with lessons I've learnt, and that will continue.
"That won't change, and obviously I want to support Mitchell. He's a fantastic on-field leader and he's got a lot of quality off-field traits as well, so as a leadership group we've got a good collection of old heads and people who are going to help push the club forward.
"Our role won't change. It will just be a matter of helping him and helping the club."