IT is evidence of the regard in which Jonathan Wright is held by former workmates that he is simply referred to as ‘Jono.’
The 25 year-old stands on the verge of an NRL Grand final win but should the Bulldogs claim victory on Sunday he will still be the humble former trainee.
Wright, a one-time trainee in the Sport and Recreation division of the NSW state government, would probably be playing rugby league this weekend even if it wasn’t for the NRL grand final.
That’s because the NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout is on again in Raymond Terrace, just north of Newcastle. The popular tournament features current NRL players most years but this time around Wright will be occupied a bit further south in Sydney.
speaking on Sky Sports Radio the morning after the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs win against South Sydney, Wright was still bursting with enthusiasm.
“It was amazing just warming up and soaking it all up” Wright told Sports Sunday when asked to describe the atmosphere prior to the Belmore outfits 32-8 triumph over the Rabbitohs.
“We had a little chat before we started our main warm-up and said ‘boys enjoy the crowd but now switch on it’s a normal game.’ The atmosphere was unbelievable and the dogs fan love it” Wright noted.
“Hopefully next week there will be some more out there”
Wright has played grand finals for the Newcastle Knights (Jersey Flegg) and Bulldogs (NSW Cup) but “That was my first big crowd. I had a few big crowds at Parramatta in the semis (prior to the 2009 grand final-which Wright did not play) but last night took the cake by far. It was just unbelievable and even after the game on the bus going back to Belmore it was just crazy.”
Wright, along-with now first-grade teammate Josh Reynolds, was a key member of the NSW Cup-winning Bulldogs side last year. Wright scored the match-winner try in a see-sawing 30-28 encounter against the Auckland Vulcans.
Turning his form around from sufficient for a NSW Cup grand final appearance to a nailed-on first grade spot in an NRL grand final was achieved with the help of new coach Des Hasler.
“It was probably a bit of self belief and playing with confidence week in week out and been consistent,” he said.
“I just went through the motions and if I played bad I played bad I dwelt on it… It was one of those attitudes I had to change. Des has worked with me and a lot of players on it and it’s come off.
“Seeing how we are playing as a team now we are getting better and better. Last year you couldn’t tell me that I’d play a grand final in the NRL this year from second grade last year it’s unbelievable. I still can’t believe it”
Two-time premiership winning coach Hasler picks his moments and methods in motivating players and he seems to have pushed the correct buttons with Wright.
“For some boys he’s different (in motivating them before and after games) it’s a short and sharp (word,) for some boys he might have a few words with,” he explained. ”
“He might joke with a few boys… he just gives us that recognition. Sometimes if you played not to your full best but did what you could for the team it’s good as a player knowing your coach has got your back. He’s proven to us he knows this end of the year and hopefully he can give us some more tips.”
Elaborating on a poor personal and team performance against the Raiders in round 25, Wright noted the change in his persona in 2012 “If that had happened two years ago I probably would have had a string of terrible games and probably would have been dropped,” he said.“
The effect of what Canberra did in targeting the Bulldogs’ left edge defence, which Wright is a part of, during their 34-6 win against the minor premiers was quickly put to bed by the Sharks-bound winger.
“He (Hasler) straight away came up to me. He said ‘it is what it is you can’t go on thinking about it, don’t go kicking cans around, move on. It’s a new week of training and another game against the Roosters.’”
Wright continued “I had to relax and go away from footy for a few days and chill with my missus and my little boy and that was about it. It’s something I have worked on and now it’s paying off.”
The Northern Lakes Warriors Junior, when growing up in the Central coast suburb of Mannering Park, is looking forward to the week ahead.
His experienced team-mates have said to “Enjoy the week, it doesn’t come around very often and some players it never happens. I’m very thankful but very excited at the same time.”
Despite coming up against a Storm side loaded with finals and representative experience Wright is confident the Dogs have the final experiences to combat that element.
“Aidan Tolman, David Stagg and Mickey Ennis have been around and say just ‘enjoy the moment, enjoy the week, soak it all up. But when it comes down to training switch back on in that mode and making sure we are doing everything right and don’t get sucked in to the distractions.’”