League: Fringe player fighting to nail down a spot

By Michael Brown

Aidan Kirk's season changed very quickly one Friday night in February.

He was gearing himself up for another year of playing for the Auckland Vulcans and pushing for an NRL debut when Wade McKinnon's season came crashing down underneath a Newcastle tackler.

Kirk was singled out as McKinnon's likely replacement and handed the role for the Warriors' season opener against Melbourne.

Along with the No 1 jersey, the job came with high expectations and intense interest in a player who had to take over from one of the Warriors' best in 2007.

"I actually didn't like [the buildup to that match] only because I didn't want to be seen as filling Wade's shoes," the 22-year-old said. "He's a good mate and I rate him as one of the best fullbacks in the competition.

"I wanted to be seen to be filling the void for the team and doing a solid job. But a lot of the hype was on, 'am I going to be as good as Wade?' I didn't like that."

It was tough for a naturally shy individual. He declined media interviews before that Storm game, and others until 10 days ago, in an effort to escape the attention but it was inevitable he would be compared to McKinnon.

His NRL debut lasted 60 minutes. He was tentative and shaky in a position that demands authority and was punted for Lance Hohaia, who has since proved himself to be a dab hand at fullback.

Kirk's second NRL experience was much better. It didn't come as soon as it should have, after he pulled a hamstring three days before due to play the Raiders.

It also came on top of spending most of last season trying to overcome a serious knee injury sustained when playing for the Roosters reserve grade side in their grand final in 2006.

"I can't say I have been the luckiest footballer," he said with a wry smile. "I have had my share of injuries and some of them have come at really bad times. I don't know who I have offended."

He was even jokingly told by Warriors staff to stay away from sharp objects and make sure he warmed up properly in the days before his return against the Roosters last weekend.

He was one of the Warriors' best in the 38-12 loss - he was an elusive and determined runner, made some good metres on kick returns and also scored his first try at NRL level.

"I think I found from my first game [against Melbourne] that first grade is about putting your head down and giving it everything because it can be seen from the sidelines," he said. "It's not so much what you do but how you do it. You've just got to give it all otherwise you won't be included next week."

He was included again last night against the Knights but this time on the left wing to accommodate the return of Michael Crockett in place of Patrick Ah Van.

"I'm still a fringe player who is fighting for my spot," he said before last night's match. "I have to do what I did last weekend 20 times before I call myself a first grader."

Whether he gets the chance to do that is entirely up to Kirk, although his chances took a dive last week with the signing of Brisbane's Denan Kemp for two seasons from 2009.

Kirk's Warriors contract runs out at the end of the season and he admits they haven't discussed renewal. He was unaware of any other club sniffing around.

"I'm trying to convince them to keep me or other clubs to poach me," he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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