Jayden Brailey watched from afar as Newcastle’s NRL season came unstuck last year, knowing he could be the glue to hold the team together in 2020.
As the 23-year-old helped guide Cronulla to the first week of the finals, the Knights struggled with inconsistency in the halves and at hooker to finish 11th.
They were heavily criticised after emerging from a rebuilding phase with a team capable of playing finals football last year.
According to Brailey, those days are over.
“I started watching them more closely when there was speculation around me going, because I obviously was,” Brailey told AAP.
“I think the past couple of years they’ve had a rough time in terms of having a building phase.
“If you look at our team now, we’re definitely well and truly past that.
“I’d like to think we’re pretty built and we’ve got the side to have a really good season and be there in October and late September, but it all starts now.
“A lot of this pre-season has been about building the mental toughness because 26 rounds is a long season.
“To put together a full season you have to be mentally tough.”
Danny Levi, who has departed for Manly, played 17 games in the No.9 jersey for just one 80-minute performance, alternating for most of the season with utility Connor Watson.
At Cronulla, Brailey improved his consistency and finished the final two months of season playing 80 minutes each week.
Watson is likely to take up the bench utility role for the Knights in 2020 and add excitement as a roaming middle player, allowing Brailey to continue his development as an elite hooker in the jersey made famous by Danny Buderus.
“”He’s expressed how excited he is to have me here,” Brailey said of Buderus.
“He’s obviously a legend of the Newcastle Knights and in my position as well.
“Those boots need to be filled in a way and I want to do that No.9 jersey proud.”