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Atkinson draws inspiration from Hynes as he chases NRL dream

Daniel Atkinson knows he can learn a lot from the career of Nicho Hynes.

The versatile 22-year-old announced this week that he has signed a one-year deal with the Cronulla Sharks, with the move to NSW coming 17 months after he made his NRL debut with the Melbourne Storm.

This is his second chance – another opportunity to fulfil his rugby league dreams, after coming out of the Melbourne system at the end of 2021.

Atkinson spent 2022 playing in the Hostplus Cup with the Sunshine Coast Falcons – a season that he knows gave him the confidence to be where he is today.

And that place is in the Shire, ready to make his mark like many Cup players who have gone before him.

Atkinson brings utility value to the Sharks

“It’s unreal. I absolutely love the club,” Atkinson said of the Sharks.

“The coaches, the playing group, the place itself, it’s pretty crazy. To be coached by Craig Fitzgibbon, who had his time at the Roosters and they’re a successful club, and then to see what he did with the Sharks in one year, it’s got me really excited to train under him.

“Having come from the Storm, I’ve started to migrate towards Dale (Finucane) and Nicho. Nicho’s already helped me out a lot. He’s played that utility role before so I’ve been picking his brain.

“I didn’t know him too much at Cup level, but from my time with him at the Storm, he was always the backup fullback to Paps (Ryan Papenhuyzen) and all Nicho needed was the opportunity.

“He showed when you get the opportunity, just to make the most of it, because look where he is now. That really puts everything into perspective.

“I just want to make the most of this year… be a sponge, learn off Nicho, push for a spot.

“I just want to play good, consistent footy, whether that’s for the Newtown Jets or if I get the chance, play with the Sharks. And if I get the opportunity, I’ll take it with two hands.”

Atkinson first had contract talks with the Sharks towards the back end of the 2022 season. But after those first conversations, things went quiet for a bit and the Brisbane product presumed he would be staying with the Falcons for another year.

Then on Friday, January 20, he got the call that he’d been waiting months for.

Atkinson playing for the Sunshine Coast Falcons. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Atkinson playing for the Sunshine Coast Falcons. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

“It’s pretty crazy,” Atkinson said.

“It was pretty out of the blue. There were talks at the end of the Falcs’ season last year. I had a Zoom call then it went a bit quiet and I started pre-season with the Falcons.

“In my head, I thought, ‘I’m content with being at the Falcons this year’. I thought that was what my year was going to look like. Then two Fridays ago I get home from work and my manager calls me saying there’s a spot at the Sharks.

“I’d had a bad day at work in the sun because I’m an apprentice chippie … to get that call was unreal.

“I got the call on the Friday and then I had to be down for the start of camp on the 30th of January. I think I had a week at the Coast to get everything ready and drive down.

“I went straight into a camp in Wollongong for a week. It was cool, it was a good way to meet everyone.

“You’re forced to live with them and it helped me out because it was a bit daunting rocking up on the first day, especially this late in pre-season.”

Nicho Hynes in his days with the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Nicho Hynes in his days with the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

Atkinson, who can play across the park but views himself as a future halfback or five-eighth, said the indication from Cronulla is they just wanted a competitive footy player at the club – something he prides himself on.

That competitive side has also grown over the past year as he built upon his confidence with both the Falcons and the Italian World Cup side.

While Atkinson is over the moon to be at the Sharks, he’s also going to miss the Falcons and is grateful for how they helped him prepare for an opportunity like this.

“I love the club,” Atkinson said of the Sunshine Coast.

“We had a real close playing group, had good coaches. I was coming out of the Storm system and going into the Cup system.

“I remember I sat down with Hendo (coach Brad Henderson) at the start of the year and said, ‘I want to guide a team around the park. I know I’m a young half but I want to guide a team around,’ and he instilled the confidence in me to do that.

“He gave me confidence.”

Atkinson in his NRL debut with the Melbourne Storm in 2021. Photo: NRL Imagery
Atkinson in his NRL debut with the Melbourne Storm in 2021. Photo: NRL Imagery

Atkinson then took his form to last year’s World Cup, playing at centre in all three pool matches for Italy.

He walked away with one win and two losses under his belt, but with a brand new mentality.

“That was hectic,” Atkinson said of his World Cup experience.

“I’m still cheering about it. It was one of the best experiences of my life … going over to England, representing my mum’s side and being able to verse Scotland, Fiji and Australia.

“The physicality of all three teams … I still pinch myself about marking up against (Valentine) Holmes. I was actually pinching myself in the game. It’s crazy.

“You idolise them your whole life and to realise you’re versing them, it’s pretty cool.

“I took away some confidence from that. Even though we lost, I take away some confidence in that, thinking I want to be at that level... that mentality.”

Atkinson will play for the Sharks in this Friday’s trial match showdown with the Newcastle Knights, slotting in at fullback.

The match will be played at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford, kicking off at 4.55pm AEST.

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