WEEK after week, Gerringong's Jackson Ford continues to show why he is one of the most resilient players in the St George Illawarra Dragons squad.
Less than 24 hours before last Saturday's kick-off against Canberra, the Group Seven product was bed-ridden and vomiting - where it appeared he might not be able to play in the club's round 18 fixture.
However, after shaking off those symptoms, Ford began to prepare for the game at WIN Stadium, which had another twist prior to kick-off.
Jacob Host was forced to pull out of the game due to a calf injury in the warm-up, seeing Ford thrust into the starting back-row.
"It was quite rattling coming into the match off the back of a sickness, which I had been dealing with for most of the week," Ford said.
"I also missed the captain's run, due to the COVID-19 restrictions - where I had to go and get tested.
"So I was a little bit off in the warm-up due to my interrupted build-up.
"Then the coaches tell me Hosty [Jacob Host] is no good and I'll be in the run-on side.
"I took it all in my stride and tried to work with Cluney [Adam Clune] the best I could on that left edge."
Ford admits that 'expect the unexpected' mentality sums up the 2020 NRL season as a whole.
"The whole year has been crazy and you've really got to be ready for anything," he said.
The Kiama High School alumnus, despite the lack of preparation, produced a strong performance in his first start in the back-row in 2020 - making 32 tackles and running for 50 metres in his 67 minutes.
As such, the 22-year-old, who's two other starts came at lock, has retained his spot inside Shellharbour Euan Aitken on the left edge, for the Red V's clash with Newcastle on Sunday.
"I'm really happy to get another start this week, which will be just my fourth of the season," he said.
"It's been a tough season for me, playing in the middle and on the edge - so it'll be nice to just concentrate on one role heading into these final two matches.
"I'm happy to play wherever is best for the team but back-row is a position I see myself playing long-term and I'm keen to show the incoming coaches my worth on the edge.
"Being behind two of the top back-rowers in NSW [Tyson Frizell and Tariq Sims] makes it tough for me to play there at the moment, so all I can do is keep learning and grab any opportunity that comes my way."
The former of those two second-rowers will join Sunday's opponents in 2021, presenting a hole in the Dragons' starting 13 next season.
"With Frizz leaving next year, there's obviously going to be an opening there," Ford, who is trying to model his game on both Frizell and Sims, said.
"I'd love to nail down that position but there's a lot of time between then and now and so it's up to me to finish the year strong and put on some size over the off-season."
Ford, although he debuted in 2019, really considers this season as his first in the top grade, as he's been able to establish himself in the club's top 17 players.
"I've learnt plenty this year compared to last," Ford, who is one of numerous Gerringong Lions growing their mullets for mental health in September, said.
"Obviously I came in late last year and only played five games but this year I've already played double that.
"The biggest thing is the wear and tear on your body and being able to manage it through recovery, so you can be at your best each and every game.
"This professional environment has also helped my approach to the game and making sure I'm in a positive mindset every time I set onto the field."
Ford is one of four Group Seven products in the Dragons' squad for the women's in league round clash with the Knights, being joined by Gerringong's Tariq Sims, Shellharbour's Euan Aitken and Albion Park-Oak Flats' Adam Clune.
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