Ever since making his NRL debut, the criticism of Penrith star Bryce Cartwright has always been about his defence.
And up until a month ago, the 21-year-old would’ve agreed.
“But that’s not the case anymore. I’m comfortable where I am at the moment with that, and it’s going to keep improving each week too” Cartwright told AAP.
His promotion as a development player into the NSW State of Origin team this week means coach Laurie Daley tends to agree, handing the Panthers back-rower the full Origin experience without playing the game.
But even though Cartwright had been in camp a full 24 hours when Wade Graham was suspended on Wednesday night for a week for a careless high tackle, Daley overlooked him for another rookie in Tyson Frizell.
And that’s because the St George Illawarra weapon has twice worn the Blues training jumper in Coffs Harbour, and even warmed up with the team at ANZ Stadium in game one.
“We obviously considered Bryce but at this point Tyson was the man that we wanted to go with because he’s been with us for two years as 18th man and he deserves a crack,” Daley said earlier this week.
“That’s the idea of getting guys like (Jack Bird) and Bryce into the squad now – to give them a bit of a taste of what it’s like so when their opportunity comes they’re not shocked and overawed.”
And that’s exactly the goal Cartwright set for himself since getting off the plane earlier this week.
“To see how they prepare for the week, just being around all the experienced players is going to be good for myself, to see how they train and how they play,” he said.
“I think just getting to know them, that’d be a good time and I can’t wait for the game. I can’t wait to be watching it and being a part of it.”
For NSW, an upset win over Queensland on Wednesday will set up a grandstand finish to retiring captain Paul Gallen’s storied career as a Blue in front of his home fans.
But defeat could signal the end of an era, and start of a new one.
And that is likely to include Cartwright, whose 33 offloads this year – equal second in the league – makes him one of the most dangerous players in the competition.
And it’s his attack, not his defence, that he has focused on improving.
“I need to be more involved in the game now, throughout the whole 80, and just getting my hands on the ball more too, being around the ball more,” he said.
“That’s my main focus right now.”