Mark Ioane knows he will start the 2015 season well advanced with his preparation and having benefitted from his patience and effort during 2014.
However the Auckland-born prop, who finished this season in fine form, knows he has new competition for the spot he worked hard to earn with David Hala joining the club and Ryan James fit and determined to make up for a lost 2014 season.
The 24-year-old, who began his career with the Warriors, was one of only two fit props – with Matt White – at season’s end and carried the responsibility well.
His work rate was solid, he was playing more minutes and his leg-speed and footwork made him a handful for opposing defences.
Ioane admits his season began slowly and it took until mid-year before he was given an opportunity after starting behind White, Nate Myles, Luke Douglas, Luke Bailey and Ryan James. This time he wants to be a leading contender from day one.
Injuries and consistent form with Burleigh Bears saw him elevated to the bench after making seven appearances in 2013 after joining the club from Canberra where he could not crack an NRL debut.
But he finished strongly and has looked sharp and in good shape already in the first days of the pre-season physical grind.
“I had a slow start to the season and that was including trials,” Ioane reflected. “We had the likes of experienced players Luke Douglas and Matt White who were playing good footy and I wasn’t at their level at that time.
“I had to go back to Burleigh and make sure I improved on the little things in my game and made sure I was more consistent every week. Gradually I got there just before the halfway point of the season and played against the Tigers (round 9 at Leichhardt).
“I thought I was playing OK footy but with the likes of Bails, Dougie and Nate they were playing good as well and there wasn’t really a spot there for me, so I went back to Burleigh. I had to just make sure I was putting pressure on Carty and the coaches at the time to put me back in the squad.
“The biggest issue for me was time on the field, adjusting to lasting longer period. So I worked on getting my fitness up with extras with Gilly (assistant coach Trevor Gillmeister) and Dan Ferris to adjust to the speed. The more games I played the fitter I felt on the field and towards the end of the season I felt I had more fitness and energy and could play longer.”
Ioane is one of several players in their mid-20s who wants to play a more senior role this year and be a consistent performer others respect and follow.
A key mentor, Luke Bailey, has moved on and opened up a spot in the pecking order, but his legacy will continue.
“Bails has been the biggest influence since I came to the club,” Mark said. “He was my gym partner since day one. He encouraged me to keep working hard and improving, to never slacken off and to stick to what has worked for me. He has had 15 years of quality football in the NRL and is an incredible mentor to those around him.
“I have always wanted to be a role model for kids and be like that, so I look up to him that way and want to emulated that. Even when he was injured at the end of the season he kept encouraging me.
“I feel I can take more responsibility on next season and hope I showed in the last four games particularly that I can do that and be one of the four props in the 17-man squad.
“Consistency is the area I want to improve. I made sure I was doing the hit ups and making the hard and adding more variety in my play with more footwork and work hard on a good ball play.”
Ioane played in the Warriors winning under-20s side in 2010 that boasted players who have gone onto establish themselves in the NRL like Kiwi Test halfback Shaun Johnson, Sosaia Feke and Elijah Taylor. He was a Junior Kiwi that season.
Like several from that side he moved from Auckland but was frustrated at not making the NRL in two seasons at Canberra. His weight had been an issue since under-20s with his 115kg frame too heavy for his height, and he trimmed down to 107kg this year and has maintained that.
“When I came here thought pretty much my last chance to crack the NRL,” he said. He played seven game off the bench in 2013 and 11 in 2014, this year average 94.5m and 19.4 runs.
In 2015 he will be reunited with one of his teammates from the champion Warriors Toyota Cup side, Matt Robinson, who joins the training squad next week after playing for the Panthers in the finals.