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Manly rookie Waddell's dad Steve always in his thoughts

The son of a first-grade rugby league player normally has a wealth of knowledge he can tap into any time he wants as he makes his way from the junior ranks to the NRL – not Corey Waddell.

The 22-year-old son of Penrith and Illawarra Steelers prop Steve Waddell had to make his way virtually on his own.

He wished his dad would be at Lottoland on Saturday for his Telstra Premiership debut with the Sea Eagles against the Roosters.

But Steve Waddell died of a heart attack at age 45. Corey was 15 years old.

"It was actually really hard. I didn't realise how hard it was until I look back at it now," Waddell told NRL.com.

"I was a kid so I had my mates around me and didn't think about it too much.

"But when I think back, I realise it was a pretty big adversity to overcome. My mum and my sister were a really big support group for me, so when I got off track, they pulled me back at line."

Manly forward Corey Waddell.
Manly forward Corey Waddell. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

Corey has an action photo of his dad in his smartphone library and looks at it regularly, especially on game days.

And this weekend was a game day he's been working towards for a long time – his NRL debut.

He had nerves but it's not as if big occasions are alien to him.

He was a member of the Penrith's premiership-winning under 20s team in 2015 and their 2017 NSW premiership-winning state side.

Waddell was used to Trent Barrett's tuition at the Panthers but by the time he joined Manly the NRL head coach mantle had been passed onto Des Hasler.

"I wasn't coming over so much for the coach. I just wanted the opportunity and a fresh start," he said.

"I really enjoyed my time at Penrith – won two trophies there – and have some good mates there still. But it's a good change coming here and I'm really enjoying being coached by Des."

A couple of vacancies opened up in the back row off-season with Shaun Lane heading to the Eels and Lewis Brown retiring.

"It lifts the spirits a bit thinking there might be a vacancy here. I trained hard during the pre-season, just waiting for an opportunity.

The experienced eye of Hasler and his coaching staff like former Penrith and Test forward John Cartwright are overseeing Waddell's transition into the NRL.

"If I play my own game I think it will be good enough. I need to keep up my aggression and I hope to also show my ball skills out wide."

Waddell was named on the bench for the Roosters.

"I've been playing left edge, right edge and in the middle at training. I've been making myself available for all options."

Sea Eagles v Roosters - Round 2

A man of few words, Hasler has spent plenty of time with Waddell.

"He's been very encouraging and he's shown me plenty of video to highlight what I need to improve on and what I'm doing well," Waddell said.

"He's not a big talker, or at least he hasn't said much to me so I take that as I'm not doing anything wrong."

Waddell immediately liked the feeling of the Sea Eagles when he walked through the door.

"There's a really rich history here. In the gym they've got all their [eight] premierships up there. Looking up it's pretty inspiring. They've got a fair bit to brag about here when it comes to premierships but obviously last year wasn't their best [finishing 15th]."