After defying the odds to reach his 50-game milestone this past season, Erin Clark his hoping to recapture the good form that had him on the radar of New Zealand coach Michael Maguire for this year’s Rugby League World Cup.
However, he’ll firstly have to be declared 100 percent fit and healthy and overcome an injury to his meniscus in his left knee that he suffered in Round 22 against Manly.
Well on the road to recovery following an arthroscopic procedure and on track to be available for selection for the Gold Coast Titans in their Round 1 match against Wests Tigers, Clark was so keen to put himself in the best position to be part of the 17 next season, he’s been showing up early at the club’s Parkwood base, despite not having to report to duty until November 14.
“Everything is going good, knee is on track … I have just started running, changing directions, so hopefully be back with the team in three to four weeks," Clark said.
Match: Wests Tigers v Titans
Round 1 -
Venue: Leichhardt Oval, Sydney
“I thought I would come back [early], just so I can get my knee right and hopefully when the other boys come down, I will be running by then.”
While he had played one game with the Warriors, making his NRL debut as a 19-year-old in 2017 after impressing as a youngster, Clark took a break from the game for two years, returning home to Auckland and playing with his junior club Manurewa Marlins which relight the fire in his belly.
Grateful for his second chance in the NRL with the Titans, Clark was happy to play anywhere the team needed him, but found another level to his game after being moved into lock by coach Justin Holbrook in Round 18.
“It felt a lot more natural,” Clark said. “Growing up, I was a halfback, I was 10kgs lighter, I played halfback and I was never a natural hooker, never played it growing up; I just moved into there when I came down here.
“To be back there felt a lot more natural, I just felt like I was playing footy back at home in the backyard, that’s the best thing about it.”
However, given his injury setback late last season and the number of quality players joining the Titans line-up for 2023, the former Samoa international was not getting too far ahead of himself or voicing a preference to play one position over another.
“I think I got to realise I am lucky to even be in the 17, so I am not going to question it or go and tell them to put me in this place, I am lucky to be in the 17,” Clark said.
“(That’s) if I am in the 17 each week. We have a lot of good forwards, we have a lot of good players coming to the club, so I have to make sure I put my best foot forward, whether that is on the bench or wherever I play, I just want to help out where I can.
“Especially coming back from an injury too, it will take me a while to catch up, so that challenge of getting myself right to perform on the field, plus be in there with the other boys. [Competition for spots is] healthy, it’s healthy for the club too.”
However, Clark didn’t shy away from the disappointment the club felt about their 2022 season and shared some lofty goals he held for the club for next season, drawing on the finals appearance of the Cowboys for inspiration.
“It was pretty tough, everyone saw that … everyone expected so much, and we didn’t perform,” Clark said.
“For myself personally, I was happy [with my football], my confidence grew in my footy, but as a team, it was pretty tough to be nearly at the bottom and it was lucky the boys pegged a couple at the back end of the year to bring us up to 13th.
“It was disappointing, but what is good is that we have next year to prove ourselves.
“We did learn a lot from last year. A lot of us are real young, we are still early on in our NRL journey, so there is a lot of expectations on us in this game, but definitely we will be better for it.
“The least I reckon is to make the top four, and then I think the main goal is to win the grand final, to make the top four as I said, the Cowboys, they did well (this year after finishing second last in 2021).”