OPPORTUNITY: Dylan PhythianIT’S been a long, hard pre-season, but Knights rookie Dylan Phythian will be the least likely to complain.
Just 12 months ago, after all, he was digging ditches for a living.
As he prepared for his 2016 campaign, as a fringe member of Newcastle’s NSW Cup squad, the Belmont-born utility held down a day job installing NBN data cables.
“Cutting concrete, removing concrete, digging holes, removing cables, conduit and stuff,’’ Phythian recalled.
“It’s definitely hard work, training, but it’s better than digging holes. It’s hard on the body, but I’d rather be doing that than waking up at six o’clock in the morning to go and dig holes 10 hours a day.’’
Phythian’s life changed dramatically last August when he took a surprise phone call, informing him he had been called into Newcastle’s NRL squad for the round-25 clash with South Sydney.
A try on debut, within a minute of entering the game, and another bench cameo against St George Illawarra a week later was enough to earn the former Hunter Sports High student a contract for 2017. He is now a genuine chance of wearing Newcastle’s No.1 jersey in the season-opener against the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium, after Jake Mamo’s decision to join Huddersfield and North Queensland’s refusal to release Kalyn Ponga a year early.
Knights coach Nathan Brown declared recently that Phythian and Peter Mata’utia were the standout candidates for the custodian role.
Used as an interchange hooker in his two NRL games, Phythian spent most of his junior career as a half or five-eighth, but has been learning the craft of fullback play from Knights assistant coach Mick Potter.
“I grew up playing six orseven,’’ he said.“I did play a little bit of fullback, but the majority was in the halves.
“I’d never really played hooker until I debuted last year. It’s not a bad trait, I suppose, being able to play a few different positions.’’
Brown said after Phythian’s promising initiation last year that theformer South Belmont Rabbitoh was a natural footballer.
“He is certainly tough and competes well,’’ Brown said.“The more of those type of people you put in the squad, the better off we will be.”
The coach has reinforced those comments by backing the 21-year-old as a possible last line of defence for the season ahead.
“It is a massive confidence booster, hearing that from him,’’ Phythian said.
“But at the same time, I just want to be out there learning as much as I can.
“Obviously the goal is to be there in round one, but if that’s not the way it works out, I just want to keep working hard and improving as a player.’’
Asked what would be his strengths as a fullback, Phythian said his ball-playing and kicking game.
“I think I can be a bit of a free-roaming half and run the ball when needed,’’ he said.
Phythian admitted his first full pre-season had taken a toll, especially at the start.
“There was a bit of wear and tear on the legs, shin splints and stuff, but I’ve got used to it as we’ve gone on,’’ he said.“I made the most of our two-week break, but now we’re back into it, and I’m feeling good.’’