Nene Macdonald’s former Dragons teammates used to call him 'Big Dell' and now the new Cowboys winger wants to play like one of his childhood idols.
Macdonald will play his first NRL game for the Cowboys in the Telstra Premiership clash with the Cowboys on Saturday night with visions of Wendell Sailor in his pomp for the Broncos, and later for the Dragons, etched in his memory.
"I copped that 'Big Dell' nickname at the Dragons. Euan Aitken and a few of the boys used to call me that all the time,” the 24-year-old told NRL.com in Townsville earlier in the pre-season.
"In my position I love to score tries. Growing up you'd see guys like Dell score some spectacular tries, so to try and re-enact them every week in the NRL is pretty exciting, and the kids love it.
"I used to love watching Dell play and modelled my game a bit on his. He was a character and an out-there person who did things his own way. He was a great player who had a big mouth on him but always backed up his words with actions. Dell would come up and say hello when I was at the Dragons and he was always very good to me."
Former Cowboys winger Ty Williams, now coach of the Northern Pride, was one of Macdonald’s mentors when he was coming through as a Cairns junior in the Pride Academy.
Williams said he was not surprised Macdonald had based his game on Sailor's.
"Nene is a 100-plus kilo winger and Dell was the same, and they are in a similar mould in other areas,” Williams told NRL.com.
"You are looking for game speed through carries one and two these days which is something Sailor did so well back in the day in tandem with Lote [Tuqiri], and Nene is as good at that as most in the game.
"Like Dell, he is a good guy to have around the playing group and can finish a try as Dell could, through brute strength. He’s going to be a target for the Cowboys kickers because he's got a good jump and is strong aerially … which is one thing he has got on Dell."
Macdonald was left out of the trial clash with the Storm for being late for training but coach Paul Green said he had responded well.
The PNG international played for the Williams-coached Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup clash with Redcliffe last weekend where he ran for 240m and scored a runaway try.
"He understood where we were coming from and the best way he can respond is what he does about it, and that is to train well and play well," Green said.
"Nene is one of the most talented guys in the competition but probably needs to work on his consistency and that is part of the lesson he has to learn."
Williams said he was "excited" to see Macdonald in Cowboys colours after a long, winding journey back to North Queensland via the Roosters, Titans and Dragons.
Macdonald has 33 tries in 91 NRL games and a long way to go before he matches the strike rate of Sailor who scored 127 tries in 222 matches, but Williams said he was on the right track.
"I was one of the Intrust Super Cup players at the Pride when Nene was coming through the junior ranks and he's gone on a pretty big growth spurt and forged himself into a PNG international and NRL superstar which is good to see," Williams said.
"He was very raw as a kid but he's always had natural ability and sense of the game that you really can't coach. As he's got older he has found a specific position on the wing and is moulding himself into a successful footballer."