Reborn Sydney Roosters star Blake Ferguson will complete a stunning transformation from bad boy to senior player when he runs out in Sunday’s season-opener against South Sydney.
While axed captain Mitchell Pearce will spend eight weeks on the sideline for his Australia Day atrocity, Ferguson runs out in his first game at fullback as a de facto leader.
Injuries to Boyd Cordner (pec) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (knee), together with Pearce’s suspension, leaves Trent Robinson’s side with over 400 NRL games worth of experience on the sidelines.
But Ferguson has embraced the opportunity at fullback to step up in their absence.
“It’s going to be a pretty big challenge for me on Sunday. I’ve been training really hard. I’ve put a bit of pressure on myself in this position that I’ve put in,” Ferguson said.
“(But) I’m pretty lucky to have ‘Robbo as a coach. He’s pretty good at coaching fullbacks, as you can see in the past couple of years.
“It’s really just knuckling down and keeping it as simple as possible and just really trying to be as consistent as I can in the game.”
If anyone understands the value in a club helping turn around the career of a troubled player, it’s Ferguson.
This time last year the former NSW State of Origin representative had only just returned from a 12-month ban from the game for indecently assaulting a woman in Cronulla in 2013.
Just like Pearce, his career appeared doomed.
But, offered an off-field role by the Roosters in May 2014, he completed a counselling course, a refereeing course, and all other requirements set out by the NRL to rubber-stamp his return to the game.
Ferguson, now 25, said it was important a contrite Pearce, like him, was back in a football environment.
“Football’s been his life and for him to be away from footy, for him to come back into the footy environment, is probably the best thing for him within the team. Just getting around the boys and really getting around him,” he said.
However he refrained from comparing his situation to that of Pearce’s.
“Junior’s different. It’s his thing that he needs to work on. I can’t tell him how to work on it. He’ll find his own way to work on it,” he said.