OF all Newcastle’s off-season recruits, he was perhaps the least heralded.
While Knights fans grew excited about the prospect of household names Mitchell Pearce, Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lillyman and Chris Heighington linking with rising stars like Kalyn Ponga and Herman Ese’ese, Slade Griffin flew under the radar.
Some supporters probably knew little about him. Others would have been aware that he played a cameo role off the bench in Melbourne’s 2017 grand final triumph.
But after his first game in Newcastle’s colours, Friday’s 19-18 win against Manly in the season-opener, the 27-year-old Kiwi looks set to become a regular fixture in Nathan Brown’s new-look squad.
Surprisingly included at the expense of New Zealand Test hooker Danny Levi, Griffin responded with a team-high 44 tackles and crafty try from dummy-half – his first in the NRL.
“I thought he was sensational,” Brown said after the game.
“You can tell where he’s come from.
“Whenever they were trying to kick their field goal, Slade was always in a position to do the small parts of the game, which he’s been getting rewarded for at Melbourne.
“Obviously every player we’ve signed, we did a lot of checking-up on. I know Melbourne certainly didn’t want to lose him.
“He helped us win [against Manly]. He’s come from a club where they win.
“And if he’s played 30-odd first-grade games, he’s probably won nearly all of them.”
Including Friday night, Griffin has actually played only 27 games in the NRL. He would undoubtedly have appeared in many more, except for three knee reconstructions that have written off last slabs of his career.
At one point he went 1056 days without an NRL appearance, yet still the Storm stuck by him.
Having spent his time with Melbourne as understudy to the great Cameron Smith, Griffin was expecting to share the dummy-half duties in Newcastle with Levi, who played four Tests for New Zealand at last year’s World Cup.
Instead Brown opted for Brock Lamb as his bench utility, and Levi started the season in NSW Cup.
“We're going to have injuries and players are going to come in and play their role so there's competition there,” Griffin said.
“Danny's a great player and I was actually quite shocked he wasn't in the team. He's going to be back in the team at some point.”
Griffin played 69 minutes against Manly and, if required, would back himself to go the full duration.
"I'd love to play 80,” he said. “If that's what Browny wants from me, that's what I'll do.
"At the moment he's given me a role and I'm just going to do that. I think I played 70 against the Roosters last year. I could do it. It just depends how the game goes."
After the comparative anonymity of being a rugby league player living in Melbourne, Griffin is relishing the passion of supporters in his new home town.
He said the 23,516-strong crowd at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday was “as loud as a grand final”.
“They were really loud and they actually understand the game,” he said. “They know when to cheer. It was awesome.”