Like many of his colleagues at North Queensland, Esan Marsters struggled with the demoralising NRL defeats and low-table finish in 2020.
Marsters didn’t have a fairytale debut year at the Cowboys, only registering 12 games for the club in the COVID-affected year.
But new coach Todd Payten has told him the centre spot is his to lose in 2021, and he’s welcomed that opportunity with off-field life aiding his focus.
He’s been given first crack in round one and named in an exciting back-line alongside young-gun Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in the centres, and is thankful to be back in a team where there is a battle for spots.
“It’s a good feeling being named in that round-one side because you know I’ve put a lot of effort into the off-season,” Marsters said.
“It was definitely tough last year not only for myself but as a team as well, when you’re losing games and you’re not performing as well – performances can drop off.
“I think I’ve grown as a person with life off the field helping me as well. Having a baby; she’s definitely given me a few responsibilities in that area just being at home and being more present, being a good father.”
The 24-year-old is slightly ahead of his teammates with two preseason opportunities in the Maori All stars and trial match against the Broncos.
But the young centre understands the depth the Cowboys have this year and won’t be taking coach Payten’s faith in him for granted.
“I’m just happy to be playing this weekend, there’s a lot of players that have just missed out on this team that deserve to be there,” he said.
“I think when the coaching staff puts a lot of confidence in you, you want to show them what’s best.”
“I put my hand up for the trial to play well and I’m ready to go for round one.”
Marsters will have his work cut-out for him facing the reigning minor premiers in Penrith on Saturday.
He will line up against new Panthers centre-pairing Paul Momirovski and Stephen Crichton, with new club member Momirovski saying the Panthers haven’t missed a beat since last year.