CHN's gamble pays dividends
If the Penrith Panthers medical staff had their way, rising back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera would have missed last season and been forced to wait and see if the club retained him.
The 22-year-old forward revealed he knocked back advice to have shoulder surgery following the NRL Nines in fear he would be forced out of the club with his contract expiring at the end of the 2017 Telstra Premiership.
"It was a niggle all year. I was hoping it healed itself by the end but it never did," Harawira-Naera told NRL.com.
"They said to get it done then but I knew I was coming off contract and asked them to play out the year.
"I would have been kicking myself if I got it done early. I was in a bad place knowing I might have had to get it done. I thought it might have been the end for me here."
Although he's now on restricted training duties until March having eventually succumbed to shoulder surgery in the off-season, his original decision to play on has reaped rewards.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin called upon the Otaua Valley junior for a first-grade debut in round four and the mobile back-rower proved a handy replacement for luckless teammates James Fisher-Harris and Bryce Cartwright throughout the year.
He became a mainstay in the line-up with 22 appearances. "It was a good introduction to first grade," Harawira-Naera said.
"It was tough week to week. Never did we have an easy game. Even when we put points on a team, I never felt it was easy.
"We didn't go as far as we wanted to go. Playing in that Broncos game, we need to be at that intensity for the whole year. I just want to build on it."
Strong performances led to rival clubs circling with the Panthers in a battle to keep him.
While Harawira-Naera conceded he went close to moving on, the opportunity to build on an impressive debut season in a stable squad under Griffin proved too good to knock back.
He re-signed with the Panthers on a new two-year deal in June.
"It was a blessing in disguise I pushed through and was lucky enough to make it play almost the whole season," he said.
"I don't think they would have kept me. Options weren't out there at the time. I got lucky. You need a bit of luck with that kind of stuff."
Harawira-Naera's aware of the talk surrounding second-year syndrome and faces stiff competition to retain a starting gig with Cartwright and Fisher-Harris back to full fitness.
"You know what they mean when you get into training," he said. "You feel like you can slacken off but you can't.
"The first year when I came over to Australia I was motivated and didn't go out.
"I did get carried away at the halfway point of that year and my form slumped. I had injuries, you've got to go through that to know what it feels like to watch everyone else on the field."
Penrith medical staff are aiming for an opening-round return for the bustling forward but Harawira-Naera wants to defy them again with an intent on playing in the club's final trial in February.
"I've been stuck on the bike only in the gym. Knowing you're missing out on new things in attack and defensive structures, it will be a lot to take in the last few weeks leading into the season," he said.