Matt Dufty has credited a move to Wollongong to be closer to training with a dramatic form turnaround for St George Illawarra that may have saved his career.
Dufty, who has scored eight tries in nine matches, admits training had become a "punish" last year as he travelled from Sydney to WIN Stadium but the 24-year-old fullback is now among the first to arrive and last to leave at most sessions.
The benefits are obvious for a player who was told he was free to find another club at the end of last season but has now regained his No.1 jersey and is not only one of the NRL’s leading try-scorers but features among the top 10 players for try assists and line break assists.
"It has been a big turnaround and I think a reason for that is moving from Sydney to Wollongong," Dufty said leading into Thursday night’s clash with South Sydney.
"It cuts the travel in half and I have been getting to training earlier, and staying a bit later."
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Dufty bought a house at Flinders and St George Illawarra second-rower Tyrell Fuimaono has moved in with him.
"I was going to buy it as an investment and stay up in Sydney but then I thought I could halve the travel time to training and it has worked out really well," he said.
"After the club said they didn’t want me I was in a pretty bad place.
"I didn’t really like footy and training was a punish but I came into the pre-season and I thought to myself ‘I am really going to turn it around’.
"It is going to be hard but I really want to do it for myself so I am going to train hard and I put in the best pre-season I have ever done. I don’t think it is a fluke. It is through hard work."
The Penshurst RSL junior ignored the pain of a dislocated finger to combine with centre Zac Lomax for two tries in last Saturday’s controversial 28-24 loss to Cronulla and had a try disallowed in the 77th minute after fumbling a Ben Hunt grubber.
The pair have been proving a handful for defences trying to contain the Dragons' right edge, where Dufty has created four tries for Lomax and three for winger Mikaele Ravalawa.
Their partnership is likely to become an even more potent as both spent the pre-season training for the fullback role so they hadn't expected to play together.
Lomax lives near WIN Stadium and teammates joke he sleeps there but the extra time at training has helped him and Dufty to work on their combination.
"Zac is a good example of someone who puts in the hard work reaping the rewards," Dufty said.
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"He is there all the time, he only lives around the corner. He gets there early and leaves late. He puts in a lot of work so I am really happy to see the form Zac is in because he is killing it.
"At the end of last season when the club said they didn’t want me it was a hard pill to swallow. I looked around in the pre-season and I still thought my best shot at playing first grade was with the Dragons.
"I had a good pre-season and it is unfortunate I broke my [cheekbone] at the NRL Nines but I got back and I am really happy with where I am at the moment."
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Dragons coach Paul McGregor said the commitment of Dufty and Lomax at training was beginning to pay off for them and the team.
"They're two of the young guys that are going really well," McGregor said.
"That's on the professionalism they're showing. Duft's moved down to Wollongong, he's closer to the training base, he trains early and leaves late, he does extras, he works hard with the assistant coaches.
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"I don't think Zac goes home. He's there the whole time. It's the way they really apply themselves to their trade through the week and they're getting the results on the weekend. It's a bright future for those two guys in the club."
Fuimaono, who joined the club from Souths, said he was also benefiting from the move to Wollongong.
"Before I moved I was probably driving 90 minutes per day each way to training so cutting that out of my daily routine has freed up two hours of time not sitting in the car," the second-rower said.
"We are under a pretty strict living regime now where we are not allowed to leave the house ... but before we went back into restrictions I was living right near the water so I was making use of that to go for recovery swims and whatnot."