Shaun Johnson believes he is over the injury problems that have hampered his first season at Cronulla and is ready to help lead the Sharks to the finals.
Cronulla welcome local rivals St George Illawarra to PointsBet Stadium on Sunday knowing a win will be enough to see them climb back into the top eight with three rounds remaining.
Johnson arrived in the shire at the start of the season as Cronulla's marquee signing. The New Zealand international has struggled with hamstring and back issues which have restricted him to glimpses of his electrifying best.
His injuries have also affected his training - and goalkicking - with Johnson going through an uncharacteristically poor run with the boot which hurt the Sharks in a number of close games.
But Johnson said he was delighted to be over his injuries and ready to help Cronulla push on over the final weeks of the season.
"I'm feeling really good. I just had a disrupted start and even just the midpoint there I was probably worrying more about my body than I was about my footy at times," he said.
"I've been able to really get through that stage and string some training sessions and games together and have a real clarity about my role in the side which is really good for myself. I'm excited about playing every week, I know what my job is and I'm feeling really good about my body which is important.
"The more training sessions you string together the better. There's no better value of experience and learning about your teammates than playing games with them. I just think it's been a progress throughout the year. I'd love to be able to stand here and say it's been an unbelievable year where everything has gone perfectly to plan. But it is what it is. I'm feeling good where I'm at right now. And whatever has happened to get me here is all part of it.
"I was going into games with hammy [and] back [problems], lots of stuff that people on the outside don't see. Missing training sessions with the boys to stay inside to try and let things settle just so i could play. And that's not ideal prep. So since then I've been able to literally train every session. It's got me excited about heading into games feeling confident within that."
Sunday will also be Johnson's first taste of the derby between the Sharks and Dragons. The 28-year-old missed the reverse fixture through injury when Cronulla won 22-9 in Wollongong in round 11.
And Johnson said his side were aware that while St George Illawarra's season was over they would still be out to hurt Cronulla's own finals chances.
"I've heard this game against Dragons here is quite a big game. It's a local derby which I'm excited to be a part of. So I'm pretty sure we'll be showing up with that right attitude," he said.
"I think there's been quite a good battle over the years. Obviously they're probably a bit disappointed in how their season is going as well. So they're going to want to disrupt what we're trying to do.
"They probably know that they don't really have a chance of playing finals but they can certainly hurt our chances. So it's a big game and hopefully we can pack this place out and put on a good show."