In the latest of a series on the breakout stars of the NRL leading into the finals, Chris Kennedy tracks the rise and rise of Rooster Lindsay Collins in 2020.
Lindsay Collins has had a terrific season by any measure, upping his running game and physicality in defence, and finally ensuring he is in Trent Robinson's best 17 regardless of who's available.
For the 24-year-old Roosters prop, that's not enough.
Collins thinks deeply about his game and isn't content just to be the big guy who runs hard and tackles with venom.
That will always be part of it, but Collins wants to be the prototype for the new, emerging breed of front-rower.
The kind who flattens you with a hit-up, knocks you down with a front-on tackle, but is also the guy contesting a kick on a fullback, putting in some late footwork at the line or handing off a nice short ball.
Panthers v Roosters - Qualifying final
Collins has missed just two games in 2020, one of those a rest last week. In 18 games he has averaged 40 minutes, 26 tackles, and 118 metres with a best of 272m when he tore apart his old team, the Broncos, in round four.
"I feel like I'm moving forward in the right direction," he says.
"The last couple of years has been a lot of work getting to this position. Looking forward, looking how I can maintain it, continue it and build on it as well. That's the biggest challenge is being consistently good and better and improving."
Evolving the game
"I feel like there's still a bit more in me," Collins says.
"I feel like the front-row position is evolving. I feel like it's becoming more than a tough, hard guy.
"You've got blokes like Siua [Taukeiaho] who are jumping up for the ball on a fullback and stuff like that. A lot more passing and plays.
"That's what I want to do as well, take it forward and evolve this new front-rower position but still have that toughness about it because it's a hard position – but I wouldn't pick any other position."
Taukeiaho and fellow Roosters veteran Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are continual sources of inspiration.
"They're good yin and yang; Jazza is that brute strength coming at you hard, hit you hard, then you've got Siua who can do the same but he'll add a bit of finesse on it with a step," he says.
"Even Jazza last week had the opportunity to go up on a fullback as well. It's those opportunities that are popping up that we shouldn't be restricted by a position. We've talked about it a bit, it's evolving with the game. Those who adapt, survive."
Roosters absorb lessons from Rabbitohs loss
The increasing speed of the game with the new six-again rule and drop to one referee make it even more important to have multi-faceted players, according to Collins.
"It's huge. The six-again, all these other rules they're bringing in," he says.
"You have to look at things you can do, look at things you can improve on your game. Train it, practise it then it will eventually happen.
"The speed of the game opens up the game a bit more and it allows people with that skill who have been encased to open up and express themselves and be able to be free, express themselves out on the field, who they are, tell people a story.
"I'm not just a big front-rower that hits up a ball and tackles, I can do a bit more than that. It's something we'll see definitely over the next few years, it will evolve, it will be different."
Wests Tigers v Roosters Qualifying Final 2010
The mental barrier to playing big minutes
Collins says it is a "badge of honour" to be there at the start and end of games, with senior props generally playing the first and last 25 or so minutes of contests.
"It's something I take personally. That little badge of honour starting out a game when everyone's fresh … you're going to get everyone's best.
"So being able to withstand that and then come back on and finish that game, even in tight games, it's a pretty cool feeling."
Even more impressive is to be able to start and stay on for most of the contest, something he only really started believing was possible for himself during a brief demotion to Canterbury Cup last year.
"That's something I definitely learned this year as well, it's a massive mental barrier," he says.
"I think I broke it, I went back to Cup last year and played like 70 minutes, it's the most I've ever played in my life, not even 20s have I played that much."
The game Collins is talking about was round 21 last year, in which he started for the North Sydney Bears against the Dragons and played 69 minutes, running 182 metres (83 post-contact) and making 45 tackles.
"It was sort of that barrier that just got knocked down and I was like 'I can actually do this' so it was a mental thing," he adds.
"Usually you'd see up on the clock you've been on for 20 minutes so that's your stint. Then you clock off, I'm ready to come off sort of thing so it was something that clicked in my head, keep pushing forward."
That grand final hunger
Collins was named in the grand final week squad in 2018 and 2019, before eventually being omitted largely due to returning players ahead of both winning efforts.
"The last two years it's been awesome to be there for the ride, especially as a young bloke," he says.
"First sniff of NRL, people don't come by NRL grand finals too often let alone two so there's an opportunity now to go again. I want it."
Will he be in the 17 this time if the Roosters make it that far? Trends suggest he will but Collins isn't getting ahead of himself.
"We've got such depth in this squad that everyone needs to be on," he says.
"I've had it the last couple of years where I haven't been on and I've been dropped back to reserve grade as well because blokes are playing good. It's not necessarily blokes are playing bad, blokes are just playing better.
"It's a tough competition here but it gets everyone performing to their best. That saying, steel sharpens steel. That's what we take out of it."
An Origin chance
Plenty of pundits have Collins alongside giant Storm youngster Tino Fa'asuamaleaui as near-certainties to bolster an under-performing Maroons squad in November.
Collins concedes it's crept into his thoughts.
"I sort of want to focus on this finals series at the moment," he says. "We're trying to do something here as a club.
"I've let it creep in my mind a couple of times throughout the year but the last two months I've sort of just parked it and just focused on this, what I need to do as a player to be performing every week and like we just talked about stay in the team every week because anything can happen.
"I don't remember watching much rugby league growing up but I remember watching State of Origin.
"It's sort of that thing, there's that one kid in your school that goes for the Blues and you hate them, you let them know. It's always sort of ingrained in you if you're a league fan or a league kid growing up, it's state against state, mate against mate."