By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Grand final-winning hooker Heath L'Estrange says he didn't join the Dragons to play for the club's NSW Cup side, the Illawarra Cutters.
Despite St George Illawarra coach Paul 'Mary' McGregor recruiting the veteran from the Roosters partly to help the development of hookers Mitch Rein and Craig Garvey, the 29-year-old told NRL.com that he's at the Red V to fight for a spot in first grade.
"I'm certainly going to fight for a position [in the NRL]. No disrespect to [the Cutters] but I'm here to push the boys and try and get the best out of them," said L'Estrange.
"I have plenty of miles in the legs, mate. This is my 12th pre-season and I love it. To be honest, I don't get paid much money for what I do but I still love it. I'll keep doing it until my legs fall off.
"I see myself in a couple of years being somewhat of a mentor or a coach to the kids coming through... so it is good for me to get a bit of experience with it now.
"[The competition with other Dragons hookers is] all fun and games though, it's all friendly, but I'd love to push them out of the way."
Having made a pact with his junior club, the Hills District Bulls, to play a year or two with them once his NRL career winds down, L'Estrange said he wasn't ready to throw in the towel following a call from McGregor that provided the impetus for his move to Wollongong.
While the Roosters had tabled an offer for L'Estrange – who came off the bench for Manly in their 40-0 Grand Final win over the Storm in 2008 – to stay at the club, he rated his chances for a regular first grade spot better at the Dragons where he wouldn't be playing second fiddle to likely future Queensland rake Jake Friend.
"My wife and I were away on holidays and we had both offers on the table and on the last day 'Mary' gave me a call. I was up at Byron Bay and [McGregor and I] were on the phone for half an hour and as soon as I hung up I told my wife I think I'm going to play for the Dragons next year and she was like 'OK'," said L'Estrange.
"The selling point was definitely Mary calling me. I had a good chat to him about a few things which got me over the line. I was umm-ing and ahh-ing about staying with the Roosters because I had a deal there but Mary gave me the time of day.
"I'm very thankful to the Roosters for giving me the opportunity to play with them last year and the same thing applies again with the Dragons for 2015. It's the perfect place for me at the moment – the squad is filled with a great bunch of boys and the club is based in two great locations."
With St George Illawarra currently undergoing somewhat of a changing of the guard, L'Estrange said the existing players have made the new recruits and himself feel right at home.
"It's going great. It isn't a bad place to train everyday down at WIN Stadium," said L'Estrange.
"The [existing players] have taken all of us new boys in and really looked after us since day one.
"It's probably been one of the most enjoyable places I've been... in my career."