By Chris Kennedy
New Manly recruit Blake Leary reckons he's pretty lucky to be where he is right now.
The 24-year-old from North Queensland has played two games for the Cowboys – one each in 2012 and 2013 – but was released at the end of 2013.
The utility forward then had arguably his best season of rugby league in 2014, winning the Intrust Super Cup with the Northern Pride, then helping the Pride upset the Penrith NSW Cup side in the inaugural State Championship Grand Final. During all that he was snapped up by Manly on a two-year deal for 2015 and 2016.
And although he was born just up the road in Mona Vale hospital, the fact he is now playing on the northern beaches is a pure coincidence.
"I'm loving it down here to tell you the truth, I've really landed on my feet," Leary told NRL.com.
"I've got a mate down here that had a room spare right in the heart of Manly. I'm really enjoying my time, the boys have been really welcoming and I'm really happy with it.
"I moved [up to Queensland] when I was one; luckily enough I've got a cousin down here, we catch up each week and get a feed together so it's good having a bit of family down here but I haven't really looked back since I moved."
A keen surfer, Leary had just stepped out of the water when NRL.com called – and said that was another obvious advantage of the move south.
"There's no waves up there [in Townsville] and unfortunately everything that can kill you is in the water!" he laughed. "You've got everything that can sting you or bite you."
But surfing aside, the reason for his move to Manly was an opportunity to progress his rugby league career at a club with a history of success – and one that has recently parted ways with some long-serving back rowers in Glenn Stewart (Rabbitohs) and Anthony Watmough (Parramatta).
"Last year I was very driven about getting signed and really having another crack. I really loved it up there in North Queensland but as soon as Manly threw an offer at me it was an easy decision, I've heard great things about the northern beaches and their record stands for itself being such a successful club," he said.
But a golden 2014 still lives in the memory.
"It was a dream season last year for us, a bit of a fairytale ending the way it did. Everyone was writing us off against Penrith in the Championship final but to come away with the win was pretty special."
Leary said his main goal in 2015 is to play "some" first grade, and to be in and around the first grade squad on a regular basis.
"But I'm happy to bide my time," he added. "There are plenty of quality players at Manly so I'll wait for my opportunity and when it comes, take it with both hands.
"I just want to learn a lot, be here for this first little bit and try and get into grade and put my stamp on it, help out the boys as much as I can and be part of the group that travels each week – just to be a week to week player. Obviously I've got some time to work my way into it but it'd be great to be in that side week to week."
On the changing of the guard in the forwards, Leary said new recruits Willie Mason and Feleti Mateo had brought knowledge, experience and a different skill set to the club, while stalwarts like Tom Symonds and Justin Horo had stepped up.
"I've noticed it's a very close knit group here at Manly, they're very welcoming and everyone sticks together. If someone's going for a feed everyone sort of pipes up and comes down and has a feed together so it's good," he said.
Predominantly a left-edge forward, Leary said he would play anywhere if it meant getting a run in first grade.
"I love it on the edge, I played a lot of lock, moved to the back-row – mainly left side because I carry the ball in my left hand and step off my left foot so that's a spot I'd love to do but I'd play anywhere to get a crack in grade."