AFTER a slow start to the 2021 NRL season, Jackson Ford has finally found his feet in recent weeks.
Through the opening 10 rounds, the Gerringong product had only made three appearance for St George Illawarra - all off the bench.
But since round 11, the 23-year-old has started all of the club's fixtures at lock, where he has played more than 59 minutes on all three occasions.
The most recent of those came in round 13 against the Broncos, where he produced 86 running metres, 31 tackles and two offloads in the win.
"The last few weeks, including the game against the Broncos, I'm been happy with my performances, as I've been able to contribute and show what I'm capable of," Ford said.
"It's also been great to play some solid minutes in the middle of the park, allowing my fitness levels to improve even further, which will be needed as he head into the back end of the year.
"Combine that with the long turnaround we've now had, my body is feeling really good heading into Monday's clash with the Bulldogs."
It's not just the Group Seven junior who is happy with his own performances, with coach Anthony Griffin heaping praise on the young forward.
"Hook's given me a wrap the last few weeks and has been really impressed with my performances, especially with so many guys unavailable for the club at the moment," he said.
"He's assured me if I continue to be an asset to the side and play the way I have been, it'll go a long way to cementing my spot in the 17.
"Although I've made strides, I know I still have work to do to keep my name in the side's top 17 each week."
Another who has helped Ford in recent weeks is Jack de Belin, who was recently reintroduced into the first grade squad after his charges of sexual assault were dropped last month.
"It's unreal to have Jack back around the club - it's been a while since he's trained with us, not to mention play," Ford said.
"His personality has given the whole group a boost.
"He's also one of the game's top forwards, so he's been great to learn off from my perspective - his ball movement, first contact, talk and tackle technique are a couple of aspects he's given me pointers on.
"As a player, I'm also trying to improve on little things, especially on the defensive end - I always feel if I have a solid defensive game, my attack can feed off that."
De Belin will play his second first grade game for the Red V on Monday, which will also mark Gerringong's Tariq Sims return to the side, after his State of Origin commitments.
As such, the 21-game NRL talent knows how important getting the two points is at Stadium Australia.
"This is a massive game for us," he said.
"We're sitting in eighth at the moment and a win would go a long way to solidifying our spot in the finals mix."
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