The Weekend Post - - Sport -

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.

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