Having overcome his first long-term injury, Sharks young gun Kade Dykes believes he will return a better footballer after gaining a new perspective in the coach's box with Craig Fitzgibbon.
After earning his NRL debut in 2022, Dykes' hopes of establishing himself in first grade this year were shattered by a ruptured ACL on his birthday in January.
Back at pre-season training and approaching full fitness, the De La Salle Caringbah junior will aim to play for the first time in almost 18 months in February's trials.
The emerging playmaker made the most of his stretch on the sidelines, completing short courses in sports coaching and strength coaching while learning off Fitzgibbon by analysing his Sharks teammates from a higher vantage point.
"I was lucky enough to watch most of the games from up in the coach's box this year. Watching it from a different perspective, you can see everything," Dykes said.
"There's definitely no hiding out there, so it was good to watch it from that point of view and see how Fitzy and all the coaches work from up there during the game.
"It was a good learning curve. He explains what he's seeing. When you’re down here and out on the field, you can't really see everything. You're worried about what you're doing in the moment, but they can see everything and watch everyone."
Dykes had shoulder surgery in 2021, but the third-generation Shark's knee injury led to the lengthiest rehabilitation period of his burgeoning career.
"When you're young, you sort of think you're bulletproof. It was a bit of a wake-up call when I got that (injury)," Dykes said.
"I definitely learnt a lot this year about myself and about my body. I'm just trying to do everything I can now to get back to where I was and get back on the field."
While taking it slow, Dykes is excited to eventually stake his claim at the top level.
"Obviously I want to play NRL; I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself right now," he added. "I just want to focus right now on getting back to full health and having a good pre-season. Hopefully, I’ll put my best foot forward."
As for whether he sees himself as a fullback or five-eighth, the son of former Cronulla stalwart Adam Dykes doesn't have a preference.
"I've been playing fullback the last couple of years, so I've still got plenty to learn there. I'm not too sure what the plan is, I'm just worried about getting back," he said.
"It doesn't really bother me. I grew up playing in the halves and then moved to fullback, so I'd be pretty confident playing either of them."