BEFORE Brad Fearnley made his SG Ball debut this season he was happy just to be a member of the Penrith Panthers squad, but by the time his campaign drew to a close he was much more than that.
The talented Bathurst forward was named the Panthers' best in the SG Ball for 2019.
Fearnley spent time at lock, prop and in the second row for Panthers as he played in all nine games.
"I was just happy to make the team at the start of the year, let alone get an award at the end of the year, so yeah, I was pretty stoked with it," he said.
"The first couple of weeks were a lot quicker than what I was used to, but because it was a long competition I got used to it by the end.
"Obviously getting used to the standard helped me personally, getting used to the quickness of the game.
"Going down there and having a look at the size of some of the boys, you've just got to back yourself every week and that you're good enough to be down there."
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While Fearnley's Panthers did not make the top eight, it was only for and against which kept them from playing in the SG Ball finals series. Cronulla nudged them out by eight points.
A high injury toll which depleted the Penrith squad played a role in its record of five wins from nine games, but on the flip side it afford Fearnley greater opportunities personally.
It meant he shouldered more responsibility in the forward pack, but it was a role he certainly handled as evidenced by his player of the year award.
That he balanced his Penrith commitments with travelling, his Bathurst Panthers training and working working every Wednesday night as a kitchen hand makes his efforts all the more impressive.
"Having those couple of injuries allowed me to step up, have more of a role in the team. At the start I was only training once a week down there, but all those injuries gave me a bigger role," Fearnley said.
"I got along well with all the coaching staff down there so they gave me a role, but with all the injuries coming I knew I really had to fulfil that role in the team.
"I learnt training wise how dedicated you've got to be and I learned how hard some blokes trained when they were injured just to get back on the field.
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"Also video wise, all the the study and the extras the coaches do for you, that was crazy."
Having signed a two-year contract Fearnley is looking to relocate to Penrith in November and be "boosted into the conversation a bit more with Jersey Flegg".
"I just want to play in a Penrith jersey," he said.
"It's a massive opportunity and I'm just really gratefully to the club and my parents for how much they sacrifice to have helped me to where I am now."
As for his Group 10 club football with Bathurst Panthers, he would love to win both an under 18s and a premier league title.
He was given his chance in premier league when other members of captain-coach Doug Hewitt's squad were injured, but Fearnley has certainly made his presence felt when injected off the bench.
"I've got to thank Dougie Hewitt for allowing me to have a bit of a chance, a bit of a run around with them in first grade," he said.