NEW Knights prop Herman Ese’ese took the words of former coach Wayne Bennett on board as he began his campaign for a regular starting spot in the NRL on Monday.
The 23-year-old trained with Newcastle for the first time since finishing a two-year stint at Brisbane under Bennett and representing Samoa at the World Cup.
Ese’ese joined Newcastle on a three-year deal reportedly worth $1.4 million, an offer Bennett said in July that the Broncos could not match under the salary cap.
Bennett, who returned to Brisbane in 2015 after a three-year tenure at Newcastle, helped revive Ese’ese’s career when he was released by Canterbury following a drink-driving charge.
Ese’ese said Bennett was “pretty disappointed” when told of his deal with the Knights but he offered words of advice to take with him.
“He just said, ‘Don’t change anything. Go out there and keep working hard and keep doing you,” Ese’ese said after training at Balance Mayfield.
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“Since I got there, I’ve learned so much from him, and I’m just really happy I got to work with him the last two years and I soaked up as much as I could from him. I’m grateful for him teaching me the ways.”
While excited to start a new chapter at Newcastle, Ese’ese admitted it was tough to leave the Broncos.
“Obviously I sat down with [Bennett] after it was all confirmed and he was pretty disappointed,” he said.
“I feel like this is the best decision for me, coming down here and establishing myself as a player, and I’ll see how I go next year.
“I’m just grateful that I’m here now and I finally get to start with the boys at a new club and wear these colours.”
Ese’ese started pre-season training after a break following Samoa’s World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of Australia.
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And while Canberra coach Ricky Stuart last week criticised the fitness of his returning Samoan trio, Ese’ese seemed to have taken on board Bennett’s advice on work ethic while making his international debut. He received glowing praise from Samoan coach Matt Parish about his performance in camp.
“The boys got stuck into the buffet,” Ese’ese smiled.
“But I tried to cut it down and tried not to go as much as I could. I kind of looked after myself during the World Cup campaign and hopefully I turned up today in good nick.
“I had four weeks off after the World Cup, so I’m a bit rusty in the fitness department but I can only get better from there.”
After 30 games for Brisbane in two seasons, Ese’ese has said cementing a starting spot was another factor in his move. However, he knows there are no guarantees.
“It depends how good I go in pre-season and in trials as well but obviously a starting spot is something I’m aiming towards, so I’ll definitely be training the house down and give it everything and show [coach Nathan Brown] that I’m ready to start,” he said.
Ese’ese comes to Newcastle, who have taken the past three wooden spoons, with three games of finals experience from this year at Brisbane and he was excited about the Knights’ potential to feature in 2018, especially since the recruitment of halfback Mitchell Pearce.
“I feel like the club’s done a great job building up a good roster and obviously having Mitchell Pearce here, with his experience, he has a high profile obviously with playing Origin and winning a grand final as well,” he said.
"It’s good to have him here and we’ve got some others to utilise as well so hopefully we’re building something special here and hopefully we can reach the finals next year.”
Many have hailed the signing of Ese’ese as a coup for the Knights, but the man himself was not bothered about the pressure of expectation that will come his way.
“I honestly don’t mind that,” he said. “It doesn’t worry when people say that. I’m just here and it’s a new challenge for me now.”
“We’ve got a really good squad here and really big goals, so I just want to keep working hard here and hopefully I can do my best and help out all the younger boys.”