As part of an NRL.com series on players aiming for a bounce-back season, Troy Whittaker looks at how Ryan James can rebuild his career at Canberra.
As he nears an NRL return after almost two years out, Raiders recruit Ryan James believes he can recapture the form that drove him to the cusp of State of Origin.
The former Titans prop has played just six matches – all at the start of 2019 – in the past two seasons due to back-to-back ACL injuries.
But Canberra could have secured one of the buys of 2021 if the 29-year-old can stay fit and deliver somewhere near his best.
"You have to be confident in everything you do, and everything I'm doing at training replicates where I was at," James told NRL.com.
"So I'm feeling pretty confident in myself. You just have to go in there and believe that you can do it. I'm at that stage now where I'm feeling pretty comfy, I just have to make sure I'm learning all their processes down here ... It's been good and we have players fighting for spots."
The veteran, who played 144 games for the Titans, said he was on track to get the "sign-off" to play on February 20, a week before the Raiders face Sydney Roosters in a trial at Leichhardt Oval.
There is fierce competition for jerseys amongst Canberra's forwards, and James is not sure if he'll be considered for NRL selection in round one or ease his way back through a reserve grade stint.
"I think we'll hopefully just see how trial form goes ... That will be my first game in [almost] 700 days," he said.
"I haven't played footy in a while so I'll get used to the new game [under the six-again infringement rule]. But I'm feeling pretty fit, probably the fittest I've been in a while, so I'm ready to go.
"We've got a nice, strong pack down here, which is the best part of being in the squad. [We're] getting ready to fight for positions which hopefully can push us further into the back-end of the season.
"Looking at it when I was coming down, I was throwing up between a couple of different teams, but when I saw the depth and the experience that we had here, and with some players leaving those other clubs, the Raiders definitely stuck out above the rest.
"Being able to play deep into the finals is one of my goals at this club, and then obviously cracking the team and playing consistent footy."
James was close to NSW selection multiple times including being 18th man in the triumphant 2018 Origin series.
Aside from his footballing ability, he is a renowned role model having captained the Titans admirably.
"Going through Ryan James' report – it speaks for itself," Canberra fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad recently told NRL.com.
"He's such a great player and he's a better bloke off the field as well. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he adds to the team."
Ryan James raring to go
Ever the professional, James began training for the Raiders earlier than required, joining the club's Jersey Flegg (under-21s) squad in November in a move that impressed NRL coach Ricky Stuart.
"Everyone here at the club's been really awesome. They've been really accommodating and just getting us through it, making sure that we're not going too quick or too slow [with rehab]," James said.
He is willing to play prop or as an edge forward, but James hopes his days of slogging out 80 minutes are behind him.
Remarkably, James's best years in first-grade so far – from 2015 to 2018 – remain the only stretch in which he's strung together successive seasons of six or more matches.
After playing four games in his debut year of 2010, James suffered an ACL injury after 14 appearances the next season.
His subsequent rehabilitation meant he only played three matches towards the end of 2012. James got through 22 games in 2013, then a recurring shoulder injury restricted him to four outings in '14.
But for the next four seasons in which he was relatively injury-free, James proved himself as a representative-calibre forward.
He was a beast with the ball, averaging 95.25 metres per game in 2015 and more than 110 metres in '16, '17 and '18.
And James was a defensive workhorse, averaging just under 30 tackles per game in 2015 and increasing that to 40.34 in '18.
Not just a toiler who can play long minutes, the proud Indigenous leader constantly broke tackles and scored 12 times in '16 to set a new record for most tries in a season by a prop.
He won the Gold Coast's 2016 Paul Broughton Medal for Player of the Year and repeated the feat in 2018.
"When you join a different environment, you always push that little bit harder, whereas you probably fall into a bit of comfortability if you're staying where you are," James said of his Raiders switch.
"That's not really my personality but it's something that you sort of just do. Coming down here, being part of a new environment, new teammates, new people to impress, you're always trying to squeeze the best part of training out of you and be your best."