Cronulla prop Braden Hamlin-Uele credits a gratitude journal, a season-long booze ban and his call-up into the New Zealand squad 12 months ago for his rise to become a forward leader at the Sharks.
Hamlin-Uele enjoyed a breakout season in 2019 with the Sharks after surviving the fallout from an off-field incident at Cronulla Sailing Club, which had him in fear of his career, and has now claimed a regular starting berth in the front row.
The 25-year-old, who will start at prop in Saturday's sudden-death finals clash with Canberra, had played all 28 NRL games until round six from the interchange bench but is now keeping the likes of Andrew Fifita on the bench.
He has also assumed greater responsibility off the field and has become a mentor for the club's younger players.
"To have it happen so fast after the season I had last year was pretty surreal," Hamlin-Uele said. "I am still pinching myself every time I get on the field at the start of games.
"Last year was a big one for me, a lot happened for me off the field as well so I can talk from all sorts of angles. I can talk about being young and full of energy but in the wrong places."
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After playing 21 matches for the Sharks last season, Hamlin-Uele caught the eye of Kiwis coach Michael Maguire and made his Test debut against Australia at WIN Stadium last October.
That experience convinced the Auckland-born prop that he had more to offer on and off the field.
"When I came back from the Kiwis camp during the pre-season I thought I have played international now so I should start to take it a bit more seriously and look to become a leader," Hamlin-Uele said.
"I am not in the leadership group or anything like that but I still see myself as someone who can help out the younger dudes and give them advice on the field and off the field."
With ambitions to become a counsellor, Hamlin-Uele began keeping a gratitude journal and he encouraged younger teammates like Ronalo Mulitalo and Braydon Trindall to do the same.
He has also given up drinking during the season.
"The whole COVID thing kept me away from my family so I thought I'd use the COVID break as a positive by writing down stuff I was grateful for in my life, which is still being able to have a job and still being able to get paid," Hamlin-Uele said.
"I started keeping a journal and that kept my mind in check. I find that helps me heaps. I don't see myself stopping anytime soon because it has been such a good tool for me, even away from footy it has helped me to grow as a person.
"I decided to take a season off the drink as well and I just feel more clear-headed. My mind isn't as clouded so I can just solely focus on footy and myself."
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After being unable to beat another top-eight team during the regular season, the Sharks are given little chance of beating the Raiders but Hamlin-Uele said they would travel to Canberra with nothing to lose.
"We seem to play better with our backs against the wall," he said. "We would have liked to have gone into the finals with a win under our belt [against a top-eight team] but it is a whole new competition and we have just got to put our best foot forward against Canberra.
"I am sure if we play the way we want to play we will go good."