ONE object has been at the forefront of Reuben Garrick’s mind the past couple of months during the St George Illawarra Dragons pre-season.
That is securing his debut first grade Dragons jersey – an accomplishment the Gerringong product hopes will happen sooner rather than later.
“Making my first grade debut is 100 per cent my goal for 2018,” Garrick said.
“I’d love to play first grade – it’s been a dream of mine since primary school.
“I can still remember the buzz I got from pulling on the Red V for the first time in under 20s and so to get a first grade jersey would mean the absolute world to me.
“It would be amazing to be given a crack this season – it’s a realistic goal I think can achieve this year.
“But I know it’s dependant on me making the most of my opportunity and grab it with both hands, if and when it comes my way.”
At the end of 2017, Garrick, who played for the NSW under 20s side last season, sat down with head coach Paul McGregor and the coaching staff to discuss their plans for him.
“When I sat down with Mary [McGregor], we set out some goals for myself, which we have been continually re-evaluating and will continue to do so this season going forward,” he said.
“We both know how important it is to stay focused and keep on track.”
This is Garrick’s second full NRL pre-season campaign, and he believes he can handle the training’s intensity and workload.
“The training load is very similar to last season but I feel I am coping a lot better with it all mentally,” he said.
“With me knowing what to expect, I’ve been able to tackle it head on the best I can, from the word go.
“I haven’t left anything in the tank either, because I know exactly how long it goes for while taking care of my recovery – a year’s experience in the pre-season is massive.”
Garrick admits he has tried to embrace every challenge set out for him this pre-season.
“Obviously the fitness as been extremely tough but the hardest part would have to be the contact and wrestle sessions,” he said.
“Every Tuesday and Friday are mainly fitness while the other days involve ball work and those contact and wrestle sessions.
“It’s especially tough when we are asked to take on some of the bigger boys in our squad like James Graham and Paul Vaughan.”
As well as those aforementioned forwards, the Group Seven product credits club stalwart Jason Nightingale for helping him learn the ropes.
“Players such as Jason [Nightingale] are just so experienced – he just gives you little pointers every now and then, on things you wouldn’t even pick up on,” he said.
“It’s things you wouldn’t even notice but that’s why he has had the successful career he has had – he just has his game down to the tee.
“There’s so many players that have a wealth of experience like him in our squad – it’s my job to absorb and learn as much as I can from those blokes as possible.”
Fellow Gerringong Lions product Tariq Sims, who has kept all the young players accountable during the pre-season, has taken Garrick under his wing.
“With Tariq having done so many pre-seasons, he knows exactly what is required day in, day out,” Garrick said.
“He’s just a natural leader on the field and keeps all the young blokes especially, on their toes and not let them fade in and out of the session, which is quite easy to do when fatigued.”
Sims isn’t the only Lions’ junior that has been slogging it out with Garrick, with Jackson Ford, the reigning St George Illawarra Holden Cup player of the year winner, going through his first pre-season training with the top grade.
“It’s been unreal to do it alongside Jackson,” he said.
“We are really good mates off the field and despite me getting sick of him every now and then, having someone to travel with each day has made this pre-season more manageable.”
Garrick also credits to influence of playing alongside players such as Nathan Ford and underneath coaches like Michael Cronin, as big reasons for getting him to wear he is today.
“Nathan [Ford] and I used to train together all the time when he was the coach of our under 18s side and we would be in the gym every afternoon – that instilled that work ethic I need to be successful from a young age,” he said.
“He used to tell us that this is the standard you need to be at if you want to make it to the NRL.
“He also made me aware of what to expect at the Dragons, something I’m sure he did with his brother Jackson too.
‘In terms of Crow [Michael Cronin], he is a man of few words but when he does speak, you take notice and take it on board.
“He always made himself available for a chat or advice when needed too.”
With trial matches fast approaching, Garrick is excited to put all the hard work, including last week’s ‘hardest week of the pre-season’ into practice.
“My main aim now is to continue to train consistently day to day and keep putting the hard work in every time I step on the field or in the gym,” he said.
“Setting these standards will also bring consistency to my game during the season, which is a big aim of main this year.
“Every week you need to be at the top of your game if you want to play NRL – you have to be doing every little thing right.
“In terms of the games, I’m definitely excited to show what a big pre-season under my belt looks like on the field.”
The Dragons first trial match is on February 17 against Hull at ANZ Stadium.