AFTER close to 10 years in Wollongong in the St George Illawarra system, the 2021 campaign represents one of change for Shellharbour junior Euan Aitken.
Not only has he joined a new NRL club, the New Zealand Warriors, but he's had to change training bases three times - none of which in the club's home base Auckland.
"The last couple of weeks has definitely been a bit of a road trip," Aitken said.
"Thankfully Kiama was close to home and Tamworth was super welcoming - everything was set-up up for there for us so we could just concentrate on footy for a couple of weeks.
"It's all been really enjoyable and allowed us to bond as a team quicker than usual, which sets us up nicely for the year ahead.
"It's now great to be back by the sea at Terrigal, where we've got a solid set-up, much like the boys had here last season."
Another change is the coaches' voice.
During his 121-game tenure with the Red V, the main voice he listened to was that of Paul McGregor.
Now he's under the tutelage of former Dragons coach Nathan Brown.
"With Browny and a couple of different coaches here, it's great to keep learning new things that I can add to my game," the 25-year-old said.
"We're obviously all working really hard as a team towards a common goal, by trying to get our attack running smooth and be on the same page defensively."
After starting his career as a right centre, the former Merimbula-Pambula Bulldog switched to the left at the back end of last season - which has led to Aitken training on both edges this pre-season.
"While I've done work with both sets of wingers and halves over the summer, I'm predominantly been training with Ken Maumalo," Aitken said.
"Ken's a big, powerful player, who I've really enjoyed playing inside thus far - I definitely feel protected lining up next to him.
"When players like him get the set started, it makes my job a lot easier to get on the back of them and grab some easy metres for the team.
"Obviously both Ken and David [Fusitu'a] missed the end of last season but I think it's done them the world of good, as they both appear refreshed during the pre-season.
"Both their training levels continue to increase this pre-season and I'm expecting big years out of both of them, which all starts next weekend with our first trial match."
That hit-out will be the former NSW Country representative's first chance to showcase his progression - which he hopes leads to both team and individual accolades.
"Every pre-season you feel like you're in the best shape of your career and this year's no different," Aitken, who admits he's taken on a leadership role at the club heading into his seventh NRL season, said.
"It's all about gradually improving and taking your game to levels it's never been at before.
"If you're not constantly looking to improve, your career won't move forward - I feel all aspects of my game are better than they were from this time last year.
"Hopefully with talented individuals around me, as we have here at the club, it can put me in a position to have my best season yet.
"If I do that and we are winnings games, it should put me in the mix for State of Origin, which is definitely still a goal of mine."
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