Corey Norman wanted to ensure his new teammates were comfortable with him joining the club before finalising a move from Parramatta, so it was frustrating he had to apologise for the fallout from a leaked video in his first week of training with the Dragons.
The St George Illawarra club is known to perform extensive due diligence before signing players, with club stalwart Craig Young – an ex-detective – in charge of integrity, so officials were aware of the video’s existence and Norman had already been punished by the NRL three years ago.
After serving an eight-match ban and being hit with a $20,000 fine in 2016, Norman has steered clear of off-field trouble and was seeking a fresh start with the Dragons after a horror 2018 season with the Eels, in which they finished last and it was made clear he had no future at the club.
“I didn’t want to bring that drama here,” Norman said.
“That was three years ago, my punishment was eight games and a fine so it has been dealt with and I have moved on. For it to pop up like that, I just felt sorry for the boys, the coaching staff and the fans.
“I rang the club straight away, I gave Mary [coach Paul McGregor] and the team management a heads-up and I gave the boys a heads-up as well. I guess that’s the world we live in these days, as we can see now. As players, we have just got to be careful.”
The release of the video in mid-January meant it wasn’t until Norman’s fourth week of training at WIN Stadium before the star playmaker was introduced to the media as a St George Illawarra player.
In between, he has been focused on building relationships with a new group of players, trying to determine where he will fit into one of the strongest spines in the Telstra Premiership and regaining the form that him in consideration for Queensland Origin selection in 2017.
Backing from Hunt and Widdop
Norman had played alongside Ben Hunt in Brisbane’s 2009 under 20s team and at NRL level before his departure for Parramatta in 2014, but besides the halfback he knew only a handful of Dragons players.
However, the 28-year-old was aware St George Illawarra had developed into a tight-knit group under McGregor so he felt it was crucial to gain the endorsement of Hunt and captain Gareth Widdop before quitting the final year of his contract with the Eels.
“I didn’t want to come down here and step on anyone’s toes or make people uncomfortable,” Norman said. “Getting the OK from the boys made it easier. That’s just what I felt was right.
“When I got the approval of Benny that he’d be keen and I spoke to Mary, and he spoke to Gaz and Gaz was keen to get me down here as well, that was a relief and sped up the process a bit.
“They’re a good bunch of blokes down here and they are pretty tight, I noticed that straight away. I am just trying to find my role in the team.”
Five-eighth or fullback?
Hunt and Widdop were one of the leading halves pairings in the NRL last season, McGregor rates Cameron McInnes as the game’s No.1 hooker and fullback Matt Dufty was a revelation in his first full season of first grade but there will be a reshuffle to accommodate Norman.
McGregor asked him about playing fullback before he signed but he has also spoken to Widdop about making a positional switch from five-eighth in a move that suggests Dufty could find himself on the bench or in the Intrust Super Premiership.
Hunt can also play hooker if McInnes is unavailable or needs a spell.
“I asked where I was going to play and told them that my preferred position would be five-eighth, and they said would you be open to playing fullback as well,” Norman said.
“I said whatever is good for the team and I think they spoke to Gareth and he was the same - he’d prefer to play five-eighth but is open to playing fullback as well so we will just see what happens. You will probably see me and Gaz at the back at some stage.
“We’ve all been swapping around at training and there is just so much depth there. I think that is the exciting thing, with the depth and the variation of how we can move everyone around.
“We have got to be on our game every week because the talent here is very good so we are all playing for spots.”
Expectations of fans
Norman’s three-year deal ensures that St George Illawarra already have a long-term replacement for Widdop, who is returning home to England to play for Warrington in 2020.
However, as Hunt found in his first season with the club last year, Dragons fans can be demanding and the club’s playmakers are under constant pressure and scrutiny.
“It’s a bit harsher down in Sydney compared to up in Brisbane,” Norman said. “I thought it was a bit unnecessary and Benny copped a bit of flak when he shouldn’t have but he has dealt with that and it is a new season so no doubt he will have a cracker this year.
“I have played with Benny at the Broncos in under 20s and first grade. We played plenty of good games together when Locky [Darren Lockyer] and Wal [Peter Wallace] were out. I think we just complement each other’s games a lot.
“I can help him out organising and he will start running, and he will do the same for me. I think Benny really helps my running game so that will be good. You have got Gaz there as well and he is a world class player so we are trying to get that balance.
“I’m coming into a quality side so I don’t have to do anything spectacular or anything like that. I have just got to do my role and do it well within the team. When you have got a quality side like this your role simplifies within the team and that makes it a lot easier.”
What went wrong at Parramatta
Norman no longer wants to dwell on how things turned so bad for him and the Eels team last season as he has now moved on.
However, Norman admits he had been on the outer since early last season and the constant struggle to win a game took its toll.
“It definitely wasn’t a season that was up to scratch for me or the Parramatta Eels as well, so I definitely want to come out and have a lot better year than I did last year.
“Only winning four games last year was pretty bad and I think you don’t realise how tough it is mentally until you step away. Looking back, it was really draining and one of the toughest seasons I have had.
“As a player, I am still stumped. Sometimes you can try too hard and it gets even worse. That was probably the case with a lot of us but that is behind me now.
“From early in the season it was no secret that I wasn’t in their plans after this year. I am glad we could all get it sorted out so Brad and the boys can get on with their season, and I am down here gelling with a new team so it worked out well.”