As he heads into his 10th season with the only club he’s played for, St George Illawarra winger Jason Nightingale won’t be handing over his starting spot to any of the club’s young stars.
Turning 30 this year, the Dragons’ Mr Dependable is likely to be one of the first players coach Paul McGregor names in his starting line-up every week.
But the 2010 premiership winner has never taken anything for granted and is relishing the challenge to keep his spot in a squad that is widely regarded as better on paper than last year’s.
A regular in the New Zealand team since 2008, Nightingale will take his customary place on the wing when the Dragons kick off their season with Monday’s trip to Melbourne.
“You never know how much time you have left in the game, but you don’t sit there thinking there’s young guys coming for me,” he said.
“I want to play well because I want to play well, and that’s how I’ve approached every season since I was a young guy. I have to approach every season like that.
“That depth creates competitiveness around training and that’s really healthy for a playing group to have that. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you focused.
“It’s definitely a deeper and stronger squad, more rounded. We’re going into the season in good shape but I’m sure there’s 15 other teams in the same shape physically. I’m really looking forward to seeing how our squad goes.”
McGregor named his opening-round team on Tuesday night, selecting Josh Dugan in the centres alongside recruit Tim Lafai and opting for Kurt Mann at fullback.
Former Warriors prop Russell Packer will make his official Dragons debut, completing his journey back from a two-year absence that included a 12-month jail sentence for an assault conviction in November, 2013.
Nightingale said Packer was committed to making the most of his second tour of duty in the NRL.
“He’ll be a great asset for us,” he said.
“He brings a lot of energy and he’s always upbeat. To have a reformed Russell Packer in our squad is only going to help us.”