Caleb Binge turns 21 this Wednesday but as a footballer he may well one day look back on his coming of age as happening a few months earlier when a sudden awareness of what it took to be an NRL footballer saw him overcome injury setbacks to make his first grade debut.
Binge played only eight games in 2014, six with Tweed Heads Seagulls and two with the Titans, because he began the year recovering from shoulder surgery and was scheduled to end it on the sideline with a knee injury but put up his hand to return a month earlier because of the team’s injury crisis.
His NRL was in round 14 against Melbourne but a fortnight later, while getting extra match fitness with Seagulls while the Titans had a bye, he hurt his media ligament and his frustrated season looked like it would end early. However, when the man who was instrumental in Binge’s great awakening in 2014 – Luke Bailey – was hit with the shattering news he would not be fit to play his last-round career farewell match, Binge answered the call to throw away the cast he was still wearing on the leg and make himself available.
He made 170 metres from 17 runs and tackled his heart out, along the way confirming he is one of the brightest young talents in the club.
But few knew how motivated he was to fill Bailey’s boots with honour, because the Old Bull and his departing mate Mark Minichiello were the ones who, months earlier, told Binge by their actions that he had to change his outlook towards his career if he was to see his achievement match his potential.
He was assigned to their pre-season training group and was blown away by their relentless attitude towards what can be soul-destroying off-season toil.
“I realised I was taking so much for granted and talent only means for so much,” Binge said. “You can be as talented as you want but only so much comes off the back of that talent; you have to put in the hard yards as well and I think I learned that this year.
“When did I realise it? I guess it was training with Bailey and Mini before Christmas. I took notice of what they did and it really opened my eyes. They were towards the end of their careers but they were training harder than anyone else. I was just starting my career and I decided to shape my career around what they did.
“I changed, as a footballer and as a person. I can see it in the things I do compared to last year when I was in the under-20s. I tried to change my attitude towards footy and life, I realised in the pre-season how much I wanted it [success] and it hit home that I had to work harder.
“The big thing that got me to where I was, definitely, was putting in the extras at training and taking nothing for granted. I know this is only the start and I have to step it up next season but I’m really determined to do that.”
Binge stripped down from 115kg to 101kg from the start of pre-season training in October to when he played his first match in early May. Coach John Cartwright had also told him if he wanted a future at the Titans he had to start training and believing like an NRL player, and to his great credit Binge ensured they weren’t wasted words.
He just wants a better run with injury in 2015.
“It was an up and down season for me, only playing eight games all year because of injury,” he said. “But having said that I did make my debut and played the last round when we beat Canterbury which was a realty special moment seeing we were farewelling Bails and Mini and Harro [Ashley Harrison] as well.
“It showed me what I want to work for next season and given me the confidence to believe I can play regular NRL footy.”