Jayden Sullivan has had anything but an easy run in the early stages of his NRL career with the Dragons.
After making his first grade debut in the final round of 2020, the exciting young playmaker has managed just 14 appearances over the past two seasons, with many of those coming off the bench.
Sullivan was left frustrated by his role at the end of last year and even asked the Dragons for an early release from his contract, before some honest conversations with head coach Anthony Griffin and CEO Ryan Webb persuaded him to remain at the club.
Ahead of St George Illawarra’s opening game of the season against the Titans, the 21-year-old is now set to claim a starting role in the halves alongside captain Ben Hunt.
MORE: St George Illawarra Dragons season preview | NRL Round 2 team lists
Speaking to The Sporting News, Sullivan believes he is ready to put any previous issues behind him and focus on helping the under-fire Dragons back towards the finals.
“I won’t deny it, I definitely asked for a release,” he said.
“All that stuff got sorted before pre-season even started – I have a good relationship with everyone at the club. I had a few one-on-one meetings with Hook and Ryan Webb and they gave me a lot of self-confidence and self-belief.
“They just backed me and all the questions that I asked, they got answered. I have a lot of trust in this club and they have a lot of trust in me. It’s up to us to get us back to playing some semi-final footy and give the club a rest for a little bit.
“I feel like I’m in a position now where I have to pay it back to the club. They’ve trusted me and got me through all those things and I’m ready to rip in.”
Sullivan possesses all the necessary tools to make him one of the best playmakers in the NRL, with his attacking flair more than matched by his toughness and desire to put his body on the line.
His opportunity in the No.6 jumper will be somewhat of a bittersweet moment however, with close mate Junior Amone having a disrupted pre-season due to an assault charge and only cleared to play by the NRL days out from their Round 2 clash.
Sullivan is still rallying around the Tongan international during his ongoing legal battle, but admitted he always had his eyes on Amone’s spot in the Red V lineup despite their close relationship.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate and whatever happens with that stuff, it will sort itself out,” he said.
“My main focus with him is to make sure he’s doing good. He has been my best mate since I was young and I will stick beside him through anything. I’ll keep making sure he and his family are doing good and hopefully that stuff will get sorted and we can get him back playing.
“Even if Junior wasn’t in that situation, it would still be a situation where three players can’t fit into two spots.
“That’s always been how we’ve been, I know we are best mates but ever since we started, we’ve always wanted to challenge each other to play in the halves. It’s a healthy competition to have and it’s only going to make us play better.
“I know Junior will back me as well and I want to play some good footy now.”
Amone had his no-fault stand-down overturned by the NRL on Tuesday, but it will be Sullivan who gets first crack at five-eighth against the Titans and he will be looking to grab the opportunity with both hands and cement himself in the starting side long-term.
One added boost for Sullivan is the fact he will be alongside one of the best players in the NRL in Hunt, while close mate Tyrell Sloan is set to take the fullback role.
“The best training is playing and if we end up playing alongside each other, I’m sure he [Hunt] is going to put his best foot forward like he has week-in and week-out,” Sullivan told The Sporting News.
“He has been our best player for three years now and he went close to winning the Dally M and had a good season himself and pretty much carried us.
“Sloany is so energetic on the field and it doesn’t look like it, but he doesn’t shut up as well – he is so annoying.
“I feel like I play my best footy when I’m alongside my best mates and I’m best mates with every single one of my teammates.
“We’re in for a good year and I’m excited.”
After a horror off-season that saw a myriad of off-field issues hit the Dragons, the local junior is hoping that getting out on the field will put the negative criticism of the club’s culture at ease.
Sullivan believes the dramas in Mudgee following the Charity Shield will only bring the club closer together and expects them to head in an upwards trajectory in 2023.
A new history starts now in the Stan Original Documentary Series Dawn Of The Dolphins. Now streaming, only on Stan
“It was a bit daunting at the start – all the stuff that went on in the pre-season was a bit scary, but that’s probably going to make us stronger as a team,” he said.
“So many people are writing us off already and we haven’t even played a competition game. I’m just excited and I know what my team can bring and I’m excited to play alongside them.
“We won the Charity Shield last year and it was the opposite to this year, we were getting praised. That’s definitely not us and not our standard, but there’s no point talking about it – we just need to fix it.
“As long as I’m rocking up to training and putting my best foot forward and training to win, not training to train, that’s all I can really do…it doesn’t really affect me in any way.
“Everyone makes mistakes and unfortunately our mistakes are happening in a cluster. I feel like the results are going to show and we’re going to be a competitive team this year and we’re really gonna go forward in a long way this year.”