NRL | Why tough hooker Slade Griffin has been such an instant hit since joining the Newcastle Knights this season

In many respects, Slade Griffin is the antithesis of the problems Nathan Brown faces at the Knights right now.

While the Newcastle coach wrestles with the up-and-down form of his younger players, many of whom were simply handed NRL jumpers before their time out of necessity and now possess a sense of entitlement, there is no such issue with the former Melbourne Storm utility.

More than most, Griffin 27, has had to fight and scrap to earn his NRL stripes.

If anything, that constant battle to prove himself and never take anything for granted has shaped his career.

He spent the past six seasons in the Storm’s fulltime squad as an under-study to Cameron Smith. That in itself was a challenge.

Along the way, he’s fought back from three knee reconstructions and has had to tough it out plenty of times when others would have felt hard done by.

“When I was in Melbourne coming off the bench, I was the first player to be dropped after a loss, even if I’d played alright,” Griffin said without a hint of bitterness.

“Sometimes, the coach has to make a statement after a loss but I just got on with it. It probably just made me more determined.”

Consistent: Hooker Slade Griffin has been a revelation for the Newcastle Knights since joining the club from Melbourne this season after spending six years in the shadow of Cameron Smith at the Storm. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

Consistent: Hooker Slade Griffin has been a revelation for the Newcastle Knights since joining the club from Melbourne this season after spending six years in the shadow of Cameron Smith at the Storm. Picture: Dave Hunt/AAP

Little wonder then after joining the Knights this season and getting the No 9 jumper ahead of Danny Levi for the season-opener against Manly, Griffin has hung onto it like a ravenous dog with a bone.

“I knew I was in for a massive battle when I came here,” Griffin said.

“Danny’s a great player and he’s a great bloke as well and we get on really well. I think we have been learning off each other.

“But I’ve always had to work for my position so nothing really changed there. I just do everything I can as hard as I can and hopefully the coach sees that.”

Born in Glen Innes, Griffin was two when he moved to Greymouth in New Zealand and was raised by his single mum with his family half Australian and half Kiwi.

“People get a bit confused whether I am an Aussie or a Kiwi but I consider myself a Kiwi,” he said.

“It’s a bit strange because my older brother Jim and sister Kelly both consider themselves Aussie.”

He played all his junior footy in Greymouth but got scouted in his teens while playing in the National Youth competition for Canterbury.

He could have played for the Warriors but instead, signed with the Storm as a 17 year old. He was the club’s SG Ball player of the year and represented NSW under-18s, which is where the confusion stems from about his eligibility for State of Origin.

“Who wouldn’t want to play State of Origin if you got your name called but I’d probably put my hand up for the Kiwis,” he said.

So why the Storm?

“I just thought they had a great coaching staff and it would be a good opportunity to go there rather than the Warriors,” he said.

Ask Griffin why Melbourne has developed into such an NRL powerhouse and he puts it down to a number of things.

“They just have a great culture. From the leaders that were there before Smithy [Cameron Smith], guys like Robbie Kearns – they have always had that strong leadership group,” he said.

“And obviously a really strong coach that has always had a no dickhead policy and a really strong pre-season regime where they weed out the weak players.

“Generally, people show their true characteristics under extreme pressure and fatigue and the pre-seasons are always really hard to get through.

“I guess I came through the system and grew up there and it was the only thing I knew. I’m happy I got to grow into a man under their values.”

Griffin firmly believes the Knights are heading in the right direction.

“I think we have a great coaching staff – Browny is very gifted and we have a lot of players coming through,” he said.

“But we’ve got so many new players in key positions so it was always going to take time to build combinations. If you throw in the injuries, that is what has rocked us a little bit the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve certainly got some brilliance with Kalyn [Ponga] and Mitch [Pearce] so it’s really up to our forwards to give them the opportunity to do their stuff.”

As for the Cronulla Sharks this Sunday?

“We need a win really badly. Hopefully, we can stay focused and stick to the plan and give ourselves a good chance.”