"Who wants to be that guy that walks up to the bar after Paul Gallen and takes all his weights off to do your sets?"

Edrick Lee is finally fit, firing and at home in Cronulla colours. Unfortunately, he's also counting down his final hours in them, having pulled his weight like he never expected in the Shire.

A three-year Knights deal awaits next year, while AAMI Park redemption – where he bombed a try in Canberra's narrow 2016 preliminary final loss to the Storm – may be beyond him with Josh Dugan firming to return against Melbourne on Friday.

Regardless, Lee departs in a better place than when he arrived, and leaves Cronulla a better place than when he found it.

He has a newfound appreciation for lifting iron and something extra to play with, because "guys like Gal, you can't help but try and do a bit more when you see them lifting big weights in the gym."

But away from Shark Park is where Lee has done his best work, and in turn found "something more to play for" after 12 months of self-doubt and reserve grade showings.

Elder Aunty Deanna Schreiber, Edrick Lee and Ed Daley from The Glen Centre.
Elder Aunty Deanna Schreiber, Edrick Lee and Ed Daley from The Glen Centre. ©Supplied

"This is the fittest and strongest I've been in a long time," Lee says of his turnaround in 2018.

"But the off-field work I do in the local Shire community really helped my footy too.

"It's steered me in the right direction and really given me something I enjoy doing and taking pride in away from footy.

"I work with the Indigenous community, I see the young kids in the schools, check in with an Indigenous men's group that comes by training and just have a yarn with them.

"Engaging with the community down here really helped me buy in and realise what the club means, its history and its culture. I've got more to play for - the club and the community."

Lee will exit Cronulla as their 2018 nomination for the Ken Stephen Medal, with studies in mental health and plans to undertake a Bachelor of Social Work in Newcastle.

He contributed to the Sharks' Indigenous jersey design this year and will increase his work with the Deadly Choices initiative, which already sees him travelling interstate and to rural areas when he gets the chance.

At 26, he's all too aware how important a back-up plan is. Unable to get a start with Cronulla for much of last year, his efforts away from the game provided perspective.

"It was always in the back of my head, whether I'd made the right choice to come to Cronulla, that was there for a long time," Lee tells NRL.com.

"It was a tough one because I was settled in Canberra, I'd been playing pretty well and the Sharks had won their first premiership, their team was settled and wasn't going to be easy to just claim a spot.

"It was a big challenge and I didn't get too many chances last year. I had to change my attitude, my mentality.

"The chance to go to Newcastle, hopefully, the transition is a bit smoother than coming down to Cronulla. But what I've got out of this year, is the confidence to really back my ability here. I want to take that with me.

“It's important to me to encourage these young kids to give themselves as many options and opportunities as possible after school by doing further education ... I'm proud to say that in my first year in the NRL I did a course and got a certificate in youth work which is something I'm passionate about.

"It's given me something to fall back on when footy does come to an end."

 

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