Titans Kiwi front-rower growing as a professional
Mark Ioane returns to the scene of his NRL debut on Sunday with a greater appreciation of the demands placed on a professional footballer.
A member of the Warriors inaugural under-20s' Toyota Cup-winning squad in 2010, Ioane started his first grade career at Mt Smart on the Gold Coast Titans' previous visit to Auckland in April last year, and since then his appearances have been frustratingly infrequent.
He played seven games in his maiden season and has only managed a marginal improvement in 2014 as the relatively under-sized front rower has to bide his time behind an experienced propping rotation featuring former and current Kangaroos internationals Luke Bailey and Nate Myles.
Luke Douglas and Matt White also boast 351 NRL games between them, leaving the Auckland-born 23-year-old as a stop gap measure.
He fulfils that role against the Warriors due to Myles's season-ending shoulder injury and former Cronulla Shark Douglas sitting out the remainder of the Titans disappointing campaign due to a suspension imposed by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.
His responsibility then increased yesterday when 269-game veteran Bailey was unable to travel due to a neck injury.
Ioane had to wait until White was suspended to step up from Queensland Cup duty with the Burleigh Bears in round eight, he faced the Warriors during the visitors' 24-16 win at Cbus Stadium in May but then endured a five-round block in reserve grade before embarking on his most productive spell on the interchange bench.
''The other guys are more experienced than me I guess,'' Ioane told Fairfax Media when quizzed ahead of his 10th appearance of the season.
''I wish I'd played a lot more first grade this year but I knew coming to the club I'd be faced with a lot of experienced rep footy players.''
Ioane confronted the same scenario when he joined the Canberra Raiders in 2011, where first grade was never a realistic option for the former Junior Kiwi while David Shillington, Brett White, Dane Tilse and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs stayed fit.
Titans foundation coach John Cartwright, who was stripped of that role earlier this month, offered Ioane an opportunity and although he has still struggled to establish himself in a struggling pack, training alongside Origin and test players has been beneficial.
''I've got a lot of feedback from most of those boys, they've been helping out my game and that should make me a better player.
''I see the one per centers they do on the field and the extras off it.
''Guys come in and do an extra session so I've built that into my training schedule. I've learnt a lot since my first year and the pre-season with the boys.''
''I'm still developing as a NRL player but I'm getting used to it.''
Ioane has a year remaining on his three-season deal and with Bailey expected to retire after the final round clash with the Bulldogs he can anticipate more game time in 2015 should he continue to mature.
''He's been a massive influence on my game,'' said Ioane, putting the 34-year-old on the same pedestal as Ruben Wiki when he was at the Warriors.
''When you're a young bloke coming into the NRL you don't really know the expectations of being a professional footy player.
''That was the biggest wake up call for me, just knowing there's a lot more to footy than just playing the game."