Not since he played second fiddle to club legend Andrew Johns has Newcastle five-eighth Jarrod Mullen felt this free in the NRL.
The acquisition of NSW State of Origin halfback Trent Hodkinson was partly designed to alleviate the pressure Mullen has carried since he took the baton from Johns in 2008.
And while the former Canterbury halfback is yet to even train with his new teammates as he continues to recover from season-ending wrist surgery, Mullen has already noticed the lightened burden.
“In the past I’ve been so caught up in looking after other boys around me and trying to be the main playmaker out there,” Mullen told AAP.
“I’ve been busy organising everyone else and not worrying about myself when the strongest part of my game is the running game.
“Hopefully this does get to free me up to run the ball more, get some more attacking opportunities and some open spaces.”
Asked when he last felt this free to run the ball, he said: “A while, probably since I played with Joey.”
New coach Nathan Brown says he hasn’t given much thought to who may replace departed skipper Kurt Gidley, however the 28-year-old Mullen shapes as the most logical candidate.
The one-time NSW Origin playmaker has led the Knights on numerous occasions in the past and, with the playmaking duties delegated to his new teammate this year, has a burning desire to do so again.
With over 1000 games worth of NRL experience departing the club over the summer, Mullen, who has fully recovered from a toe injury that limited him to just 10 games in 2015, said he was eager to fill the void.
“I gotta take a lot more responsibility on my shoulders, which I have in the past couple of years,” he said.
“The captaincy’s helped me in the past, get myself mentally right for the game on and off the field.
“In 2013 when I got the captaincy when Gids was injured, we went alright then and I played some of my best footy then too. I like that extra responsibility and I think it’ll help my game.”