Manly’s Jackson Hastings wants NRL clubs to do more to protect teenage prodigies from hype as they discover the pitfalls of professional rugby league.
Hastings made his debut at the Roosters in 2014 as an 18-year-old star in the making, but fell out of favour last year before shifting to Manly, admitting he spent numerous lonely nights questioning his future over the off-season.
The NRL has worked hard to develop an award-winning education and welfare program for under-20s and first-grade players, which is implemented from the teenage years. Each club also has a welfare manager who monitors the well-being of players.
But Hastings said he would like to see young stars better managed by clubs to shield them from the hype before the seemingly-inevitable rough patch – including following the lead of the Roosters in resting Latrell Mitchell this year.
“I never had that,” he said.
“I think clubs can get better at protecting their young kids, and hopefully as the years go on that can get better – because I don’t want to see kids go through what a few of us have gone through.
“I like the idea of taking them out of the spotlight for a week or two and then bringing them back in.
“Because it’s tough. If you haven’t got thick skin it can do some damage mentally.”
Hastings finished 2016 in reserve grade after starting as a first-choice Roosters playmaker, and has still split his time between the second-tier competition and NRL this year at Manly.
But he said his attitude changed after meeting coach Trent Barrett and advisor Bob Fulton.
“They told me that I have 12 years left in me and I’m not done yet,” he said.
“I’d lay in bed at night and have things run through my head.
“There were a couple of times there where I thought ‘am I going to play first grade again?’ Then I would have to slap myself and say: ‘I’m 20 years old’.
“But I’ve just done a complete 360 with the way I look at life and footy.”
Hastings has come off the bench as a new-look utility four times for Manly this year, playing mostly out of dummy-half.
“A lot of people don’t like being labelled a utility but I think it’s got its benefits,” Hastings said.