Teenage Dragons fullback Tyrell Sloan has credited his impressive pre-season campaign to gruelling running sessions he did with the Sydney Swans before St George Illawarra training began.
Sloan, who played under 18s for Dapto last year after the NSWRL senior competitions were cancelled, wanted to give himself a head-start for pre-season training so he accepted an invitation to join the Swans players for some distance running.
The 18-year-old has never played AFL and is not interested in a code switch but he is good friends with Swans forward James Bell, who suggested he train with the Moore Park-based club to prepare him for his first season in St George Illawarra's NRL squad.
"He's kind of an idol for myself because he is a young Indigenous boy that plays first grade up there and this year he's trying to cement first grade," Sloan said of Bell, who has played 10 AFL matches for the Swans.
"I've never played AFL, I started getting into it last year because I was hanging out with Jimmy a lot. I got to meet Adam Goodes and had dinner with them. They're Aboriginal icons for myself but they were just normal people.
"Jimmy is like an older brother to me. He said ‘let’s get ready for pre-season, this is your year to have a big year' and he helped me to try and be a professional athlete. Now I'm ticking boxes with that so he helped a lot."
At Swans training, Sloan took part in 2km and 1km time trials and when St George Illawarra players got together for the first time under new coach Anthony Griffin he made an immediate impression.
With a running style that has drawn comparisons with former Cronulla fullback David Peachey by some who have watched him in juniors, Sloan finished 5th among Dragons playeers in a 1.2km time trial at the first pre-season session.
"That's what I did up there and the times they run are a lot quicker," he said of Swans training. "It was really hard [at Dragons training], but the times I was doing were comfortable for me. I’m more of a distance runner.
"I just tried to get on the front foot at the start of the season and impress. Hopefully I did that."
After signing a three-year Dragons contract, Sloan has joined the top squad as a development player but his performance in last Friday night’s trial against Cronulla suggested he could be ready for his Telstra Premiership debut this season.
Sloan scored the opening try of the match and his combination with precocious playmaker Jayden Sullivan was evident after years of playing together at junior level.
The pair were members of the Illawarra Steelers' 2019 SG Ball winning team, along with centres Mat and Max Feagai and five-eighth Junior Amone.
"I found the footy really fast and a lot different to what I have played so far but to play with Junior and Bud [Sullivan], I grew up playing with them and to get on that stage was really special," Sloan said.
"At the start of the game we just looked at each other and said ‘this is our time’, so it was a good feeling.
"It made it so much easier, and even when I first came into pre-season the first couple of weeks were easy. I spoke to the Feagai twins and Bud and they didn’t really have any young guys coming through in their first pre-season but for me the transition was good."
All Stars: Where it all began
Matt Dufty and Cody Ramsey are likely to be Griffin’s preferred fullback options, but Sloan can also play on the wing.
"Wherever I play this year I just want to play consistent footy and having Duft and Cody in front of me really helps me a lot," he said. "If I can learn from them it is going to help my game and I want to try and help theirs’ too.
"I played a bit of wing in the SG Ball side and I like it on the wing. I had the Feagais as my centres so I didn’t have to do much defence, because they do it all, and I scored a couple of tries as well."
Dragons in 2021
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