He may wear the No. 9 jersey but when it comes to fitness and competitiveness during the "four-month audition" for places in the Gold Coast Titans' starting line-up, Nathan Peats is unquestionably number one at the club.
The feats, and attitude, of the NSW State of Origin hooker have become legendary during his 21 months at the club and has led experienced head of performance, Hayden Knowles, to declare the 27-year-old is the "most disciplined pro I have seen" when it comes to injury rehab and preparation for training and matches.
And the arrival of fellow experienced hooker Mitch Rein, often rounding out the top three with Kane Elgey when it comes to fitness and running tests, has lifted Peats even more.
Knowles says Peats "sets the standard for the whole club" while the man himself simply explains his training application with "that’s what training is about - you like to compete and better yourself and push yourself against blokes in your position and everyone else in the team.
"If you’re just happy to be in the middle of the pack it’s not going to get you anywhere. I have always tried to win everything I can."
There have been few specific set rules applied by the Titans training bosses Knowles, Scott Campbell and Craig Catterick, no heavy-handed reminders or regimes, but more an honesty system between footballers and their mentors as part of a test by an almost completely new coaching staff to see who desperately wants to be a part of success within a squad that is probably the youngest in the NRL.
And Peats is the standard bearer.
When Knowles arrives around 6am most mornings, he glimpses out his window overlooking the Parkwood gym and sees Peats will already be working on his weights routine aimed at strengthening his shoulder that required off-season surgery.
Peats has won every running test in the off-season. Sports scientist Emma Russo will report live stats on the workrate of players during various on-field competitive games during pre-season, measuring metres per minute. Peats is usually on top, certainly always in the top three.
"We don’t set too many rules here; we just look for signs that you want to be here and want to work and the first sign each day is when I look out of the window that overlooks the gym and Peatsy is usually first one in there, doing extra work on his shoulder rehab," Knowles said.
"He is the most disciplined pro I have seen when it comes to working hard on that stuff (rehab and prehab); sometimes he has had to be pulled back. He hates losing anything.
"If you had 17 people as competitive as Nathan Peats you would struggle to be beaten. He is very driven, very hungry.
"Every day at training he gives you reason to believe how much he wants success for himself and the team."
Peats, who arrived in May 2016 as a salary cap cast-off by a Parramatta Eels club in crisis, has grown into a leader who privately won’t hesitate to speak his mind in the team environment and backs it up with actions, yet is not one to enjoy a high profile in the media.
Yet his passion and loyalty to his team, and matter-of-fact attitude which can appear gruff and tinted with an apparent anger at times, is impressive.
During the team’s live-in camp in Toowoomba in December, Titans welfare manager and former Giants/Seagulls prop Peter Smith interviewed selected players to reveal insights for their teammates.
Peats showed so much emotion about being selected for the Blues last year and having his family present his jersey, and articulated so much passion and desire to win a premiership, it left an incredible mark on those in the room.
"This is my third season here now and there are not a lot of blokes over 25 or who played a lot of NRL games, so I walked into that [leadership] spot I guess," says Peats, one of only six Titans players with 100 NRL games’ experience in a squad that has an average age of 24.5.
"I think it’s a good young squad and really enthusiastic and there are a few young leaders here who have really stepped up too.
"When you’ve got new coach and new training staff it puts all the players on edge, we all want to impress and work hard and be selected for round one. It’s a four-month audition really to be selected for round one.
"There haven’t been a lot of rules set but no one has come late; we start meetings at 7.30 and they expect everyone to be strapped and have done their prehab so blokes are rolling in at 5.45 or six o’clock; 95 per cent of the squad are here by 6.30 and everyone is definitely here by 6.45.
"It’s a four-month audition really to be selected for round one."Nathan Peats
"So, everyone is getting at least 45 minutes of prep, whether it be stretching or prehab on injuries. The boys have made our own standards and follow it. A lot of teams do the same thing but it’s good that we are working together as a tight unit and trying to improve ourselves."
The rivalry of respect between Peats and newcomer Rein, long-time hooking adversaries, has had a positive impact on Garth Brennan’s squad during pre-season. They were born five months apart in 1990, debuted three weeks apart in 2011 and Peats has played 115 NRL games, compared to Rein’s 137.
Their drive to push each other in the weights room or running drills are standard-setting. But it’s nothing new for either player.
"I strive to beat any No.9 [in training] whether it’s the fourth one down the rank or number two," says Peats. "I have always done that and it makes both people, or three or however many are competing for that position, better. It makes the team better, the individual better, everyone better."
Peachy on his move to the Titans
When the Titans players split for their Christmas break and the traditional Kris Kringle gifts were exchanged, the jeers and laughter were abundant when Peats opened his present – to find a Tweed Heads Seagulls [Titans’ feeder team] No. 9 jersey inside.
The donor remains anonymous of course, but rumour has it a certain M. Rein may have been responsible (with the help of a big forward with Seagulls connections).
One thing is for certain though … Peats’s new level of commitment with Rein working hard over his shoulder is a gift that may pay surprise dividends for the Titans in 2018.