In-form centre Justin Olam has been a revelation at Melbourne Storm this season and the proud Papua New Guinean is not willing to give up his place in the team without a fight.
Olam admits he wasn’t ready to make the most of his opportunity when he got a taste of first grade with three appearances for the Storm last year. But now, 12 months on, the 25-year-old is out to prove he belongs at the highest level.
Olam’s strong form of late has seen the likes of Sandor Earl, Marion Seve and Ryan Papenhuyzen forced to play off the bench or cool their heels in reserve grade waiting for a chance.
The recent return of premiership-winning centre Curtis Scott from injury is only going to thrust more pressure on the softly spoken speedster to perform.
But Olam – who has scored four tries from eight matches this season – is determined to do what he can to hold on to his spot and keep those players on the sidelines for a bit longer.
“In my position there are four or five better players out there with more experience than me,” Olam said.
“They are just waiting to come and play, so I have to play my part and try and hopefully stay in that spot.”
It hasn’t always been rosy for Olam in Melbourne. He found it hard to adjust to the rigours of being a full-time footballer when he first signed a contract with the Storm in 2016.
“I remember the first year I came in I was doing everything wrong,” he said.
“We used to have videos sent to us after every training session and I would get 20 or 30 clips of me doing everything that is against the system.
“It was a bit annoying sometimes as I felt like I was doing it right…I thought they were attacking me.
“But as time goes on I felt like I needed to learn to be better and if I wanted to be part of the club I needed to change or I wouldn’t get the chance again.”
Olam played all of 2017 with the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Intrust Super Cup and then only got the chance to make his Storm debut in round nine of the 2018 season, when Scott went down with an injury.
A further two appearances followed in 2018, but Olam admits he found the pressures of playing in first grade and flying the flag for his country too tough to handle.
“I was too hard on myself and I reckon I was a bit nervous and I started to think worst-case scenarios on what might happen,” Olam said.
“This year my mindset is different. I know I have played NRL, so I just go out there and play for myself and for my family.”
Playing for Storm in front of big crowds at large stadiums across the country is a long way from the days when Olam grew up in PNG watching NRL on the television with his family and friends.
Olam said the first game of NRL he can remember seeing was when legendary Melbourne winger and fellow Papua New Guinean Marcus Bai led Storm to premiership success in 1999 over the Dragons.
Last week incredible pictures emerged on social media of hundreds of people in Port Moresby watching Olam play for the Storm.
Olam said not much has changed over the years and this is exactly what he enjoyed doing when he was growing up.
“Before I came here and before I went to university I used to do that as well,” Olam said.
“Whenever there was a big game coming up we would all sit around the TV. One little screen and 200 or 300 people standing around and supporting their team.
“Back then my place was ages away, so after dinner I used to walk for an hour or an hour and 30 minutes just to get there to watch.
“You would have to get there early too, because if you got there early you could be close to the screen and watch closely.”