Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has challenged rising backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon to make the left edge his own this season, declaring his potential is still largely untapped.
“He’ll be as good as he wants to be – that is what it comes down to,” Brown said of the 24-year-old local junior.
“He has a great feel for the game and really good game awareness. He’s up there as one of the best hole-running backrowers in the NRL. What did he score, eight tries last season?
“If you went through the stats, I think there was only one other backrower in the comp who scored more and we finished last.
Adding to the feat, those eight tries came from just 14 appearances in the top grade with Fitzgibbon consistently one of the side’s best during the back end of the season.
Asked did he see the level of improvement in Fitzgibbon last season coming, Brown said:
“The talent’s always been there but he knows there is always plenty to work on. I would say how far he goes in the game depends on how much he is prepared to push himself.”
Which is precisely what the South Newcastle Lions junior has been doing during the pre-season as he faces a genuine challenge to keep his place in the top squad.
With Roosters recruit Aidan Guerra likely to feature on the right edge, Fitzgibbon will be vying with the likes of last season’s co-captain Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett and the emerging Sam Stone for a place in the forward pack.
“I’m not a young bloke coming through anymore. I’m at that age where I’ve got to start cementing a spot in the side and hopefully it leads to some success around here,” Fitzgibbon said.
“We’ve had some good players come into the mix – Aidan’s come in and in my position, JB (Buhrer) can still play there and myself and then you’ve got Sam Stone and even Mitch Barnett.
“So there is a good crop of us running around at the moment so it’s good competition for all of us.
“We all want to be in the side come round one but in the end, it’s up to Browny and the coaches to sort that out but whatever happens, we’ll field a strong side.”
Told about Brown’s “he can be as good as he wants to be” comments, Fitzgibbon said he understands it all comes down to how hard he works.
“Browny has said that to me a few times over the past couple of years and obviously, he has some faith in me which is good,” Fitzgibbon said. “I think he has shown that over the past few seasons so hopefully, I can reward him and pay him back for that faith.
“It comes down to me off the back of training hard, putting in some good games and being consistent.”
Fitzgibbon said his form over the back-end of last season was all to do with a build up of confidence.
“With more game time, you get more confidence and it can snowball. You play a few good games and the confidence grows more to the point where you feel you belong at that level and that was the case with a few of the other boys too,”he said