Towering young Bulldogs back-rower Shaun Lane says the big step up from NSW Cup to NRL has been made easier by coach Des Hasler easing him in while his senior teammates show him the ropes ahead of his first NRL finals series.
While Lane has played a few big-minute games when injuries have struck, he has mostly been used for less than 40 minutes per game and sometimes under 20 minutes, keeping his average game time at little over half an hour per game over the final two months of the competition.
This has kept him fresh ahead of the finals after starting the year playing 80-minute games in NSW Cup.
"I'm feeling all right actually... We had a fair few byes and I've come into the NRL team, I've only been playing 30 minutes a game or so, so compared to what I'm used to it's not too bad," Lane said.
"I'm feeling pretty fresh and they give us plenty of time to rest up and stuff like that here so I'm not too bad.
"It's all a learning curve. [Hasler] puts his faith in the older players to play longer minutes. They're proven obviously to work at that rate and the amount of minutes. It's good for the team, that's what really matters, those older players getting the maximum time and the younger kids coming off the bench bringing energy and after a couple of years doing that we're ready to progress onto longer minutes."
With a pack full of international back-rowers such as Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood and Josh Jackson, Lane has had no shortage of mentors.
"It's helped a lot. I know it's helped a lot with the younger forwards like Lloyd Perrett and Danny Fualalo... they keep a cool head on us, they teach us a lot at training and in the games," Lane said.
"Especially myself with the senior back rowers like Frank Pritchard and Josh Jackson, I learned a lot from them in the pre season, they've taught me how to cope with Des's defensive structures and stuff like that. They've made it a lot easier to transition.
"It was mainly during the pre season where I learned most of the things. Jacko was a great help there, T-Rex [Tony Williams] as well even though he's not in the team now because of his injury, but those two taught me a lot with the differences coming up from under-20s training to Des, it's a lot more specific and a lot more difficult and you have to be concentrating the whole time so they help me out a lot with what to look for."
Lane's rise into first grade has happened very quickly.
"I didn't expect all of this to occur in my first season but I've just got to take it with both hands. I guess I'll go about the finals series like it's a normal game," he said.
The 20-year-old had a taste of finals-type football in an intense game at Belmore against Melbourne in front of a sellout home crowd, which should stand him in good stead. Lane was named man of the match in that game after a fine all-round performance.
However he is still learning more about the NRL every week.
"With each week you learn something new about the differences between NRL and NSW Cup and even under-20s. It's quite a big step up and quite a bit of difference between each grade so you've just got to learn the ins and outs of the NRL and I guess I've learned a fair bit by now so it's easier coping with it every week," he said.
This article first appeared on NRL.com