MR VERSATILITY RISES AFTER BEING GIVEN STABILITY
FOR a long time, Matt Prior was a victim of his own versatility.
A forward throughout his junior years in Thirroul, the unpresuming wannabe pro surfer suddenly found himself running out in the centres for his first NRL club, St George Illawarra.
Happy just to be on the field, Prior played centre, back row and front row, plugging whatever hole was required under coach Wayne Bennett, and later Steve Price, and was rewarded with a cameo off the bench in the Dragons’ 2010 grand final triumph.
It was somewhere during this period that the now 31-year-old – the fourth-oldest NSW debutant in State of Origin history – believes a misconception about his natural position was born. “Everyone thinks I played as a centre moving into the forwards,” Prior said. “But I grew up in the forwards. I’ve always been a utility ... who played in the centres if you needed me.
“And then with the Dragons I workedmy way out there just to fill a job. I actually started in, worked my way out, then worked my way back in.”
By his own assessment, Prior performed pretty well at centre, but “was never setting theworld on fire out there”.
It wasn’t until Prior signed with Cronulla in 2014 that he returned to his true positional roots, excelling at prop under Shane Flanagan and new Sharks assistant Price to become a key member of the 2016 premiership-winning side.
“I’m a lot happier now,” he said.
“Just knowing each week that’s where I’ll be playing, I can always focus on what I need to work on ... it just made life and my footy so much easier.”
Origin had previously been a pipe dream for the perennially underrated talent, but he started writing it down as a legitimate goal each pre-season, and his capacity to stay calm in the fiercest of contests soon had him touted as having genuine rep potential.
And on Tuesday night when selected for Origin II, Prior received accolades a decade in the making.