Deep into his fourth NRL pre-season at Shark Park, Kayal Iro is willing to do whatever it takes to become a regular in Craig Fitzgibbon’s best 17 - even if that means knocking on the boss' door.
With one first-grade game to his name and one year left on his contract, the son of former Kiwi star Kevin Iro knows 2024 is a make or break year as he looks to establish himself in the NRL.
“Obviously this is my last year on contract so this is my chance now to hopefully get some more NRL games in just to prove my worth and earn my stripes, so it’s a massive year,” Iro told NRL.com.
“Last year I started going in to see Fitzy every Monday to go over the weekend together and he’d let me know what I'd done well or needed to work on.
“We’d chat about my [Newtown] Jets game and training to see what I needed to continue to work on to get into the NRL.
“I don't know if everyone does that, but I make sure to go in and see him whenever I can.
“I know there's always stuff to work on, even when you are a top player, but I feel like I’m moving closer to that and still developing here.”
Like many players coming through the ranks in 2019-20, Iro had his momentum halted by the COVID pandemic and he was left with little choice but to move back home to the Cook Islands.
Having once given up on his rugby league dream, the 2022 NSW Cup Player of the Year is determined to cement a spot in first grade at the club that handed him his lifeline.
“I had a year at the Knights where I just did pre-season and played (NSW) Cup but that was the COVID year and I had a bad back so I moved back home,” Iro said.
“So it was a tough year but then I got a call from Glenn Brailey, he asked my manager at the time if I was keen to come back and have a 10-week train and trial.
“I had gone home with the idea of quitting footy but this was my dream. I only had a week to accept it so I thought I’ll just take it on and head straight over, it was pretty quick.”
Four years on, Fitzgibbon describes Iro as "hard-working and studious" and said the commitment to his development comes with the faith the club put had in the young speedster when they offered a two-year extension in 2022.
"When Kayal first came to the club, he started on a train and trail contract and after that he went back to Newtown," Fitzgibbon told NRL.com.
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"We offered him a couple of things to look at in his game and he worked on them, got better at them and to Kayal’s credit, he hasn't stopped coming in trying to get better each week, each day.
"He’s incredibly hard-working and humble and he's definitely a player that we're trying to accelerate his development."
Since joining Cronulla, the 23-year-old has starred for the Newtown Jets in NSW Cup, racking up 10 tries, 15 line breaks and 104 tackle breaks in 17 games last season.
Jesse Ramien and Siosifa Talakai have made the centre positions their own in the past two seasons but Fitzgibbon said there has been "a lot of noise" surrounding a shootout for the No.3 and No.4 jerseys heading into the Pre-Season Challenge.
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"Sam Stonestreet, Mawene Hiroti, Kade Dykes and Kayal are all putting pressure on our centres," the coach said.
"The standard of training has been very high because of that competition and we’ll be looking at all of them in the trials.
"Kayal has also got a couple of strengths in the way that he carries the ball out of the backfield, which is obviously the strength of his game.
"He’s definitely applied from where, where he started to where he is now and we offered him a two-year contract so we owe it to him to develop his game."
Match: Knights v Sharks
Round 1 -
Venue: Industree Group Stadium, Gosford