By Chris Kennedy - NRL.com National Correspondent
St George Illawarra Dragons forward Jacob Host says a tough finish to 2017 is driving his team through a gruelling off-season and will provide plenty of motivation throughout their Telstra Premiership campaign.
Host is determined to find a spot in Paul McGregor's 17 for the opening round despite heavy competition in a star-studded pack.
The 21-year-old rising star is thrilled to get a chance to play and train alongside Canterbury and England legend James Graham – who will join his new teammates in the new year – even though his arrival plus the addition of Sharks veteran Jeremy Latimore and ex-Eels prop Mitch Allgood from Wakefield will ensure intense competition for forward spots at the Dragons.
"[That competition] definitely puts us in good stead if there are any injuries or any players go on to play rep honours throughout the year," Host told NRL.com.
"It will definitely make sure our performances stay consistent throughout with a strong pack.
"It's good for depth and it's good for competition as well because you've got players that obviously want to be playing first grade each week so they're going to be trying to put their best foot forward whether they're coming off the bench, starting or playing reserve grade."
Graham, in particular, could be huge for Host's development as an up-and-coming NRL middle forward.
"He's been massive for England in the World Cup – he put in a massive effort against Tonga [in the semi-final]," Host said.
"He seems to be everywhere on the park – everywhere he shouldn't be! It's going to be interesting to see what he's like around training and to try and get [an idea of] the little things he does away from footy as well to try and make myself better. Everyone knows it's the little one-percenters that make a big difference."
The Dragons have signed three seasoned props and lost just one (Russell Packer to the Wests Tigers), but Host is hopeful he can fend off the challenge to snare an NRL berth.
"[I'm going] to push myself to the absolute physical limit and try and set myself up for the best start to the season; my goal is to be playing Round 1," Host said.
"I'm happy to be playing anywhere as long as I'm in the team but definitely [targeting] more consistency this year and to cement my spot in the team is something I'm trying to do."
Host played 11 top-grade games in 2017, following eight in his debut season in 2016.
He wasn't in the NRL team for the final month of 2017 through a combination of form and minor injury niggles.
St George Illawarra lost four of their last six games – including the final-round upset to a Bulldogs team with little to play for – to tumble out of the top eight.
"It has been stuck in the back of the head, it was a disappointing way to finish the season," Host said.
"But the boys are definitely going to be using that as motivation when round one comes around. We also have some new players coming in that are definitely going to make a big impact on the squad and everyone wants to start the season well. It will be part motivation but everyone wants to strive for greatness."