Cronulla wrecking-ball Siosifa Talakai has conceded coach Craig Fitzgibbon was right to drop him mid-season, labelling the decision the wake-up call he needed to save his year.
Talakai will enter Saturday's elimination final against the Sydney Roosters as an X-factor for the Sharks, remaining one of the most powerful outside backs in the competition.
But after earning his maiden NSW State of Origin jumper last year and becoming a genuine cult hero at Cronulla, 2023 has not been so easy.
The 26-year-old was dropped after the Sharks' 44-12 humbling from the Warriors in July, as a defensive nightmare from he and Matt Moylan allowed five tries to go in on their left edge.
Moylan and Talakai were both dropped the following week, while edge second-rower Wade Graham also missed the following game against Manly with a toe injury.
"I give props to Fitzy. There might be some coaches who would beat around the bush and don’t really put you in your place or put you on notice," Talakai said.
"But when you’re not up to scratch, that’s how business should be, that’s how a team should be. You should be transparent.
"Fitzy put it to Moyza and I, and we deserved it. We weren’t up to scratch and we weren’t playing well.
"I had things going on outside the NRL at the same time.
"We needed to take the lessons out of that game, and I’ve come back better for it. That decision opened my eyes."
Talakai admitted at the time he did not know if his season was over, with Fitzgibbon refusing to guarantee publicly the pair would be picked again in 2023.
And while Moylan's defence has left him on the outer for the finals, Talakai's absence lasted one week before backs Sione Katoa and Will Kennedy suffered injuries.
"It's really humbling because when it happens, you don’t want to go into your shell but you kind of have to at the same time," Talakai said.
"You’ve just got to lean back on your strengths and work on all your flaws.
"I just stripped everything back and tried not to do too much. I focused on trying to nail my role and went from there.
"I wanted to lay it all out there and not give him any reasons to drop me again."
Talakai will have the difficult task of trying to shut down Roosters star Joey Manu on Saturday night.
Manu is battling a hamstring injury, but is expected to play.
"He's a very good player, I would probably say on his best day, he is top two in the league.
"If he is in or out, it is what it is. I have to make sure I am on my game and not giving him any opportunities."