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Szepanowski thriving in NRL environment

Tyler Szepanowski didn’t see his NRL opportunity coming.

But as the Central Queensland Capras talent prepares to run out for the NRL Dolphins in their historic opening trial this Saturday – fittingly against his Hostplus Cup club – he knows he wants more.

Szepanowski was one of four Capras to be given a pre-season train-and-trial deal with the NRL’s newest franchise, alongside teammates Lachlan Hubner and Bailey Butler, as well as incoming Central Queensland playmaker Kurt Donoghoe.

While injury cut short Butler’s time with the Dolphins, Szepanowski, Hubner and Donoghoe will all run out for the NRL side in Saturday’s clash with the Capras in Gladstone.

And the 23-year-old prop will be using this game to push his case to fill one of the last spots in the Dolphins squad for 2023.

Capras to reap benefits of NRL pre-season

“I never had this in mind,” Szepanowski said of his NRL pre-season.

“I’ve always just tried to play the best footy that I could and would see what happened.

“I’d like to stay here but I’m taking it by day by day. I’ll know a little bit more around trial time and I am hoping to stay on but if not, I’ll go back to Capras and bring back a lot of what I’ve learnt and help continue to build the club.

“If I go back to Capras, I want to have another really good year with them and see how far into the finals we can go.

“Either way I’m happy.”

Szepanowski training with the Dolphins. Photo: Dolphins NRL/QRL
Szepanowski training with the Dolphins. Photo: Dolphins NRL/QRL

Szepanowski, who previously spent time in the Gold Coast Titans’ under 20s program, made his Cup debut in 2021 and quickly excelled for the Capras, taking out a joint Rookie of the Year award with Hubner in his first season.

He has similarly impressed at the Dolphins, with his pre-season efforts also earning him the chance to go on the club’s camp at the start of this year.

It was an unexpected call-up for Szepanowski, but one that showed him how much his hard work was paying off.

“It really meant a lot to be recognised and I was really grateful to be there and I soaked it all up,” Szepanowski said.

“Crusher (Dolphins operations manager, Grant Cleal) only texted me about a day before I came back after Christmas.

“It was a bit of a surprise but I was over the moon that I got to go and be around the boys for that. It’s something I won’t forget.

“It was really tough. It was a bit of an army camp - three days – and there was a lot of team building stuff in there. It was really good to test myself mentally and learn a bit about myself along the way and how far you can push your body if your mind gets put to it.

“It was also good to learn from the older boys who have been around the block and to be put through the trenches with them.”

A proud Rockhampton product, Szepanowski is certainly hopeful of extending his time with the Dolphins, but also keen to get back to the Capras and bring everything he has learnt with him.

As well as thriving at the new level of intensity that comes with NRL training, Szepanowski has learnt a lot from those around him - from coaches Wayne Bennett and Kristian Woolf down to the playing group packed with talent, including fellow forwards Felise Kaufusi, Jarrod Wallace and the Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny.

But the player who has probably had the biggest impact on Szepanowski is Queensland Maroons forward Tom Gilbert.

Whatever the next step forward is for Szepanowski, he knows he will take plenty from his time with the Dolphins.

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“It’s definitely been a bit of a step up from what I’m used to but I’ve really enjoyed it and learned plenty,” he said.

“All the boys are really knowledgeable and they pull you up on every single thing. They’re very willing to help me out.

“I’m blown away by Tommy Gilbert’s work ethic and his professionalism. He’s obviously quite young but is pretty wise beyond his years.

“He’s a good role model for a lot of boys in this squad, not just the younger boys. Even when it gets tough, he’s always the one to be talking and pulling you along and giving you a bit of a hand. That makes a big difference.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of this is the expectation that you have to rock up to train your best every single day, no matter what, and prepare yourself to do that every single session, day after day, week after week.”

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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