Andy Saunders has signed with the Wentworthville Magpies, giving the Intrust Super Premiership club a massive boost to start 2018.
Des Hasler handed Saunders his NRL debut last year for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, but with the veteran coach’s departure went the promising 23-year-old prop forward who was consequently left without a club.
Phil Gould is a massive fan of Saunders, constantly rapping him in the Channel 9 commentary box during his debut at Belmore Oval last year after winning a premiership with the Penrith Panthers NYC team in 2013 and captaining the side in 2014.
The fact he was left without a club would come as a shock to many given how highly regarded and promising he is, and Saunders admits it was a tough period.
“It was most definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Saunders said to NSWRL.com.au.
“I’ve been full-time for six years and this is my first year doing part-time, so it was very hard to take but it’s how you react.
“I started last week; I got in contact with Nathan Cayless the head coach here and I was very excited to be a part of the club and he said what was expected, so the boys have been training hard before Christmas training four or five days a week.
“It’s good to be back on board with football and I’m looking forward to season 2018.”
While playing NRL is still the major goal for Saunders, securing a full-time contract is the first thing on the agenda.
He refuses, however, to look too far ahead as that ultimate goal could be a distraction, and performances on the park for the Magpies is the first step towards that goal.
Rewards for performing in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW is inclusion in the Residents side, a team he was a part of last year.
“A big goal this year is getting to play with Residents, last year it was one of the greatest weeks I’ve had,” Saunders said.
“Putting Wenty into the finals as well, the boys have been training really hard and there’s definitely plenty of depth here at the club, so hopefully this year we can go very far in the competition.
“We went to the sand dunes on Saturday in the first week of training, so it was a bit of a shock to the system.”
For Saunders, 2017 may seem like a roller-coaster year.
He began at Penrith, signed with the Bulldogs early on, made the Residents side, made his NRL debut, and then didn’t get re-signed.
Making his debut was a dream come true from the Quirindi Grasshoppers junior, and hopes to build on that in 2018.
“[Debuting] was one of the best experiences I’ve ever done, I worked so hard for it,” Saunders said.
“Des Hasler gave me a reward with a debut last year, I think it was Round 18 against Newcastle Knights at Belmore and Moses Mbye got an intercept at the end to win.
“Yeah, that was last year just looking forward to this year to hopefully get back in the full-time system.
“This year is a very big year for me building wise, this year I just want to play my best footy for Wenty and put my best foot forward for Nathan Cayless.”