FIRST and foremost, Ryan Morgan is a Parramatta Eels fan.
For years, the Greystanes junior was a regular fixture at Parramatta Stadium watching his heroes such as Nathan Hindmarsh and Timana Tahu.
As a loyal member of the blue and gold army he one day dreamed it would be him the fans were cheering. Last year his dream became a reality.
In front of 40,000 people at Eden Park, Auckland, Morgan made his NRL debut against the NZ Warriors in round 1 of the 2011 season.
"It would have to be my career highlight to date," Morgan said of the debut victory last year.
"At the start of the year I was hoping just to play one game, so it came as quite a shock to get a start in round one.
"It was an unbelievable experience and something I will never forget. And to get a win, topped it off."
Fast forward 12 months and Morgan will line up in the centres against the Warriors tonight in his 16th game in the top flight. A lot has changed in that time.
For one, the 21-year-old has developed the confidence and maturity one can only gain from a full year in the NRL.
And two, he has learnt what it takes to be a NRL footballer. Not just a player; but a complete footballer.
"I guess a lot of the fans watch the game and don't realise what happens behind the scenes — the pre game preparation, the stretching, media and extra training," he said.
"This year I head into the season more confident knowing what to expect on and off the field.
"It gives you the self belief because there are no surprises and you know you have done it before.
"Last year I had a few injuries which knocked me around a little bit, so this year I want to stay on top of that and play some good footy."
On the field Morgan wants to make the right centre position his own in 2012.
A tough pre-season has him fighting fit and eager to partner new recruit Willie Tonga when he returns from injury.
But he knows he won't have it all his own way — especially with Willie's brother Esi in the squad.
"Healthy competition is good for everyone," said Morgan, who crossed the stripe five times in 2011.
"It means you have to be on your game at all times — not just during the game, but at training, too. We have a good culture here at Parramatta and across the board everyone has to be at the top of your game to hold your spot in the team."
A local junior, Morgan's Parramatta career didn't get off to the best of starts when he was overlooked for the Harold Matthews squad.
It made the former beach flags sprint champion more determined to succeed.
He bounced back with impressive years in the Toyota Cup which prompted his selection in the top grade ahead of more more fancied teammates Paul Whatuira, Joel Reddy, Jordan Atkins and Jacob Loko.
It was a sink or swim promotion into the top grade with Morgan lining up against Greg Inglis, Michael Jennings and Willie Tonga in the opening month of his first grade career.
"I guess when you're up against those type of guys I just think back to all the hard work I have done behind the scenes and trust that I have done the hard work to succeed," he said.
"When you play on the edge it's important to be able to trust people inside and outside you, and together if you put in the hard work you are better prepared to handle the Inglis and Hodges and those types of blokes."