During Penrith’s pre-season training Kaide Ellis didn’t stand out as much as Panthers’ big names like James Maloney, James Tamou, Trent Merrin or Josh Mansour.
But from this weekend on, Ellis wants to be the one people are talking about.
The Dubbo CYMS junior spent the entire off-season training with Penrith’s NRL squad but this weekend he will line up in the second row for the Panthers against Wentworthville in the NSW Intrust Super Premiership.
After being 18th man for the Panthers’ NRL outfit a number of times last season, cracking first grade is Ellis’ obvious goal for the new season.
But to do that, he knows he’s got to earn it.
I want people to say ‘he’s a first grader’ when I’m playing.Kaide Ellis
“I’m a bit older and in the Intrust Super Premiership I’ve got that experience so now I’ve got take that next step,” he said.
“I want people to say ‘he’s a first grader’ when I’m playing there.”
Ellis, in the final year of his contract at Penrith, admits it’s been a long pre-season but is raring to go, with the Panthers taking on Wentworthville on Sunday afternoon.
The Nathan Cayless-coached Wentworthville, Parramatta’s feeder side, has plenty of size up front and Ellis is eager to match it with the imposing pack.
“Wentworthville has named a strong side and a lot of them have got first grade experience so it’s going to be a good test,” he said.
“I’ve got to aim up and stand out in that regard. I’ve got to get my foot in the door for first grade and it’s going to be a good challenge. I’m pretty excited.”
The fact he’s in the last year of his deal adds some extra motivation, but the former Western Rams star knows the best way to stay at the foot of the mountains.
“I want to stay so I’m playing for a new contract but I’m not focusing on that too much,” he said.
“If a first grade debut comes then hopefully I can get a new contract after that.”
The battle for a place in the Panthers forward pack is a fierce one this season with Ellis and highly-rated young gun Jed Cartwright behind the likes of Merrin, Tamou, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, James Fisher-Harris, Corey Harawira-Naera, Viliame Kikau and another Dubbo product, Isaah Yeo.
“It was a good learning experience (last year), being around those blokes and being 18th man three or four times and getting to go away with the team,” Ellis said.
“But I want to go one better and get a spot in that 17.”
Ellis spent half of pre-season before last year’s competition with the NRL squad but this year he’s in the club’s top 30 players and will train with first grade each week.
He stated he’s learnt a lot being around his fellow forwards every session and had nothing but praise for Yeo.
“He’s one of the top leaders now,” he said.
“He and ‘Wall’ (Peter Wallace) do a lot of the talking and they’re two of the hardest workers we’ve got.
“I expect him to have a big year.”
Penrith hosts Wentworthville from 1.45pm on Sunday.