Australia

Dylan Edwards could reap ultimate reward after turning down Tigers

Not long after they let Ryan Papenhuyzen slip through their grasp, Wests Tigers turned their attention to the other fullback playing in this year’s grand final.

When Ivan Cleary was coaching the joint-venture outfit, he was acutely aware of Dylan Edwards’ talents from their time together at the foot of the mountains. So when the Tigers needed a long-term fullback replacement for James Tedesco, Cleary went all-in to sign Edwards.

The Tigers put forward a bumper four-year deal with the promise of the No.1 jersey. However, when the Panthers matched the money that was on the table, Edwards opted to stay put.

Ultimately, Edwards and Cleary were reunited when the latter returned to the Panthers, a decision that has them within reach of a premiership if they can extend their unbeaten run to 18 against Melbourne on Sunday.

For Edwards, the path to the decider hasn’t always been a smooth one. He arrived at the club from Dorrigo as a 17-year-old playmaker, a position in which he excelled to the point that Cleary has publicly stated Edwards could have squeezed his son Nathan out of a halves spot.

“I was playing in the halves, at five-eighth,” Edwards recalled. “Obviously there are some good halves here, so I wasn’t going to make it there, was I? The club found another position for me.”

At times, Edwards has struggled to retain it. After a couple of solid seasons at fullback, the 24-year-old was last year dropped to reserve grade. The move came after a diabolical performance against Sunday’s opponents, the Storm, in March.

The former Junior Kangaroo made six handling errors and when his performance didn’t improve the following week, his career was at a crossroads.

Dylan Edwards is in fine form for the Panthers.

Dylan Edwards is in fine form for the Panthers.Credit:Getty

“It was a tough period, but obviously I learnt a lot about myself,” Edwards said. “I was definitely down on form and confidence. I learnt a lot about myself, what to do and what not to do, to get back into the side.

“I just stripped everything back, went back to what I do well in the game.

“It was just about staying present, staying in the game. Not to dwell on mistakes or too much on the past. Trying not to let one bad moment ruin the next moment.

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“I never thought I’d never get back in. If I played good enough footy, I knew I could earn my way back in there. I was fortunate to string together a couple of good games in NSW Cup to get back into the first-grade side.”

Edwards did just that and has retained his place. To show how far he has come, look no further than last week. South Sydney peppered Edwards with a barrage of bombs, from the floating to the spiralling variety, in greasy conditions. Every one of them was safely defused.

“Clez and Burto [Nathan Cleary and Matt Burton] put up bombs every day after training, so I get a fair bit of practice trying to catch those,” he said.

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