Dragons' Tyson Frizell.

"I try not to think about that 'c'-word as a job title."

That's Tyson Frizell discussing the St George Illawarra captaincy and his under-stated leadership qualities after emerging as a contender for the role when Gareth Widdop returns to England at the end of the season.

Frizell didn't play representative rugby league as a junior and began wearing black boots after being disappointed with his first two NRL appearances in a coloured pair so it is no surprise to learn that he had never captained any team until the 2017 Auckland Nines.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor last season elevated the Test and Origin forward to his leadership group, and he has shared the captain's role with hooker Cameron McInnes and prop James Graham in Widdop's absence due to a shoulder injury.

"I still find it pretty funny and pinch myself thinking, 'what am I doing. Do I really deserve this role'," Frizell said. "I had never thought about it in my whole career, being in the leadership group or anything like that."

Frizell, who has again been one of the Dragons' best players since recovering from a ruptured testicle in the round one loss to North Queensland, doesn't want to think about the possibility of taking over the captaincy now either.

However, the 27-year-old international thrived on the responsibility last season when Widdop was injured and admits it made him consider his leadership style.

"I think I played some of my best footy last season when I shared the captaincy role with Cameron," Frizell said. "You feel very grateful and honoured to be able to lead your team out, although it was under pretty bad circumstances in not having your actual captain there.

"I don't want to be setting that as something I want to do. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I won't be changing my role in the team. This is my second year of being in the leadership group and there are only four of us in it.

"You don't want to change the player you are or the person you are to fit a captaincy role. At the end of the day it is just the 'c' against your name, and you get to flip the coin and lead the boys out.

"Being in that role is an honour but I try not to think about that 'c'-word as a job title or anything like that because you are no different to anyone else on the team and you are just one of 17 players out there trying to get the win."

Origin hangover

Besides the English pair of Widdop and Graham, Frizell is the most experienced in the Dragons squad and he recognised he had to show the way for team-mates Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin who were playing State of Origin for the first time last season.

The Dragons' representation in Origin impacted their season and they lost momentum after winning 12 of their opening 15 matches.

Having played every Origin since his debut in the opening match of the 2016 season, Frizell felt he needed to show the Blues' rookies the way.

An experienced Blues campaigner.
An experienced Blues campaigner. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"You can't be sitting in the background, you have to step up and we were doing it pretty tough," he said. "There was a couple of boys who were learning to come out of Origin because it is difficult.

"I had done it for a few years so I don't have any excuses. I've learnt to cope with the highs and lows of Origin so it was a time where I had to put my hand up and have a go, not sit back and just let it all unfold because we were struggling a bit.

McGregor's influence

Frizell credits McGregor for helping him to develop from a player who was never on the radar at the Dragons, or any other NRL club, as a junior to one of the most dynamic forwards in the game.

"He's very open and honest with us as a leadership group and he has been very good for my development as a player," he said. "He works really hard behind the scenes and is very calm in his approach.

"That is probably one side he has learned to change. He will tell you himself that he has grown as a coach and he is wanting to learn as well. He has only been in the top coaching role for a while and he has definitely developed as a coach.

"When things aren't going well some coaches get frustrated and change their approach to training but he was the same from round 1 to the finals series last year. "He was probably the most calm out of the whole group and that gave us all belief and confidence."

Superstitions

Frizell always plays with his socks down and wears black boots.

He also wears short tights at the final training session before each game and, like many players, including Graham, he is superstitious about his preparation.

"I was wearing coloured boots when I played my first two NRL games and I played terrible," Frizell said. "I questioned whether I was good enough to stick it out and play in the NRL. Then when I went from coloured boots to pure black boots in my second year, I felt like I belonged.

"When you take routine out of something that has worked you sort of freak out a bit. At the end of the day it is probably not going to affect you, but it is just a mental thing. I used to wear my socks up and then one game my socks were down and I had a good game so I left it from there.

Tyson Frizell against the Bulldogs, 2019.
Tyson Frizell against the Bulldogs, 2019. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"I still strap my wrist and arms exactly the same way and I will only wear short tights on captain's runs. It is something I did when I was at Cronulla and I still do it at Origin level and Aussie level."

Frizell lives near Graham at Cronulla and the pair spend time together in the lead up to matches.

"We go for a coffee after captain's run and we always get a treat. If we do well we will get exactly the same thing the next week.

"If I can't make it for coffee, he will always make me feel bad. He will say 'we won last week, you have got to come'. We played a game and leading into it we went for a sauna and a swim and we won so the next week we had to do the same thing."