JOSH King understands that the Newcastle Knights will have front-rowers this season with bigger frames and greater experience than he can offer.
What he won’t accept is that any of them will work harder than he does to nail down a spot in Nathan Brown’s first 17.
Preparing for his third season in the NRL, King now has 27 top-grade games under his belt, 10 of them in the starting-line-up last year.
While he has welcomed the addition of Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Chris Heighington (Cronulla) and Herman Ese’ese (Brisbane) and the competition that will create for selection, he has no intention of taking a backward step.
“The expectation I have of myself is a lot higher,” King told the Newcastle Herald.
“My first couple of seasons, I didn’t really know what to expect. But now I’ve got a feel for it and I expect myself to be up the front with the fitness, going all right in defence, and I think I’m getting there, slowly but surely.
“Confidence is a big thing now, too. Knowing that I can play at this level.
“I’ve come a long way from when I started. This is the first season where I feel confident in myself and my ability.”
King said he was relishing the training-pitch advice he has been receiving from veterans Heighington and Lillyman and views their presence as something that will hasten his progress, rather than hinder it.
“I understand that Lillyman is a 200-plus gamer, and Heighington is a 300-plus gamer, so they’re experienced first-graders,” he said.
“I understand that there might be a game where I have to go back to reserve grade. I’m happy to do that if it’s the best thing for the Knights.
“But at the same time, I’m not going to be giving my spot up easily and I’m happy that there’s a challenge here because it’s really going to force us to play good footy each week. If anyone has an off week, they’ll be back down to the reserve grade. And that’s the best thing, because it’s going to drive everyone to be better players.”
After debuting in a 53-0 thrashing in Brisbane two seasons ago, King had to wait 14 games for his first win in the NRL. The 22-year-old is now looking forward to climbing the competition ladder and getting to the point where winning becomes a habit.
“We’re jelling really well as a squad and we’re all working hard together at training, so it’s exciting times ahead,” he said.
With one season left on his contract, the Singleton junior has held preliminary talks with Knights officials about extending his stay.
“I love Newcastle,” he said. “It’s my home town and I’d love to see where this club can go in the next few years.”