A self-confessed pessimist early on in his career, Panthers second rower Liam Martin admits he never thought he’d play NRL, let alone be preparing to run out for 100 games in the competition.
This week however, the Temora Dragons junior will take his place in the line-up as his side go up against Western Sydney rivals Parramatta, where another win will put them in the box seat to claim their third minor premiership in four seasons.
“I was a bit of a pessimist, in Under 20s when they have the chat and they go ‘only two in the room is going to make it (to the NRL)', I was like, ‘ah, nah, I won't make it’; so I am just sort of pinching myself,” Martin told NRL.com following Penrith’s Round 25 win against the Titans.
Liam Martin with a leaping four-pointer
“It’s incredible, it still feels like yesterday, I remember getting told by Ive (coach Ivan Cleary) in 2019, (that I was making my NRL debut) and I can't believe 100 games has rolled around, what's happened in that time span, it's pretty incredible.
“I can hardly wait until the career's finished and I can sit back and appreciate it, I just feel like it's gone like such a blur at the moment.
“But, it'll just be another job on Thursday night, so I can't really focus too much on it.”
That ‘blur’ - which started with a game in Bathurst against the Melbourne Storm - includes winning back-to-back premierships in 2021 and 2022 and representing New South Wales in Origin in nine games since 2021. Martin was also part of the Australian Kangaroos squad that won last year’s Rugby League World Cup, scoring a try in the final.
Taking a brief moment to reflect on those great heights, Martin was quick to point out where it all started for him, having fun in his junior games.
“There is a lot of sacrifice, especially, from my mum, she drove hundreds of ks for me through juniors and I wouldn't be in the position I am in today without her,” Martin said.
“I am very grateful for everyone that's helped me on the way through.
“I still love it, absolutely, I love the game. Playing with your best mates, there's nothing else I'd want to do in the world.”
As for when he knew he could not only feature regularly in the NRL, but also could be good at it if he worked hard, Martin said it took his coach having faith in him to fully realise his potential.
“It still took a while, it's the sort of the system you're in, I was just bludging off Nathan (Cleary) I reckon for half of my career, so it’s pretty incredible,” Martin said with a laugh.
“(But honestly) probably when Ive came (back); I was playing New South Wales Cup and I was playing pretty well there, and he gave me the confidence to go to the new level.
“After a few games in first grade – it probably took me a year or so to settle down and find my feet – and after that, the coaching staff that we've got here, I keep learning and trying and keep growing."
A Panther through-and-through, having come up via the grades from SG Ball, to Under 20s and New South Wales Cup; this week, Martin has been named to face off against last year’s grand final opponents the Eels.
With Parramatta needing to win to keep their finals hopes – which are currently hanging by a frayed thread, alive – Martin said his team would be keen to address a few of the issues that arose against the Titans last week, with the Gold Coast causing an early scare.
“In both halves, we probably started pretty poorly, but it's good that we could turn it around and come up over the top of them in both halves,” Martin, who has re-signed at the club until 2027, said.
“But that is (something we) need to address this week at training.”
Match: Panthers v Eels
Round 26 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith