Before he had even ran out for his Brisbane Broncos debut, there was already a sense we were about to see a different side of Adam Reynolds.
It was not exactly clear what that version would look like but what did quickly become apparent is that this was a change that Reynolds needed.
“Coming here it’s been a fresh start. It’s been good mentally and physically,” Reynolds said back in March.
“Emotionally I’ve been probably the best I’ve been in a long time.”
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The Broncos had been warned against buying into the narrative that Reynolds would be their saviour, that his signature would be lift the fallen NRL giant back towards its glory days.
But now Brisbane sits in seventh position and enters Thursday night’s game with Newcastle on the back of a four-game winning streak.
And according to legendary playmakers Matty Johns and Cooper Cronk, Reynolds travels to the Hunter in career-best form, buoyed by a big change to his game.
“I thought watching the back-half of last year, that was the best I’ve seen him ball-play,” Johns said on ‘The Matty Johns Podcast’.
“Now I think he has taken it to another level. We knew he was going to give the Broncos direction, we knew he was going to give them composure and last-tackle smarts. But he’s given them that flair and creativity.”
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The numbers back it up too. Sure, Reynolds still leads the league for average kick metres (504) but he also ranks third for try assists (11).
In fact, if Reynolds keeps up his current form, he looks on track to record over 20 try assists for the first time since 2014 — when South Sydney won its last premiership.
Cronk admitted he did not see the move producing results this quickly, in part due to the challenge Reynolds faced steering around a spine that was very much a work-in-progress.
“You’ve got Te Maire Martin, Tyson Gamble and Billy Walters in that spine,” Cronk said.
“They’re good, solid players but they’re not super creative as well so he is coming up with a lot of big plays at the moment. At the back-end of last year, for a large portion, he was pigeonholed into being that game manager and kicker.
“Towards the back-end of last year, his creativity went through the roof and he’s gone again to another level.”
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Reynolds had plenty of support at South Sydney, meaning he could take a back seat when it came to producing the big plays in the opposition red zone.
This year though, the 31-year-old has reinvented his game, even producing a stunning between-the-legs pass to put Kotoni Staggs over against the Bulldogs back in March.
That try ended up being overruled after replays showed Staggs drop the ball as he went to ground it but the point stood nonetheless — Reynolds is thriving with the added responsibility.
“His job was to defend well, kick well and provide a little bit of service for the big guns to do their thing,” Cronk said.
“He was an elite kicker in the comp, he still is and has been always but his creativity [and] ability to come up with plays is the best it’s ever been throughout his career.
“He’s done kicks for [Selwyn] Cobbo on the weekend, kicks for himself throughout the season and he is still managing the team, still an elite kicker but he is coming up with big plays and there is a lot more creativity in this stage of Adam Reynolds’ career than there ever has been before. He’s building confidence at that team.”
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And Reynolds is building confidence as the new face of one of the league’s proudest clubs.
“We go to Magic Round and he is everywhere,” Cronk added.
“He’s doing TV, interviews, he’s on buses, billboards and I think he likes it. It shows in his performances [that] he likes being the big dog in town. He’s really delivering.”
When Reynolds spoke in March about a “fresh start”, he was not just talking about himself.
It was a new challenge for his family too and that was just as important in his decision to pass up opportunities at rival Sydney clubs.
“We had a couple of hours before the show and he was just so relaxed,” Johns said, revealing a conversation he had with Reynolds on Sunday night.
“We asked him a question: ‘You had a couple of Sydney clubs after you. Why did you pick Brisbane?’ and I loved the response.
“He said he went to Brisbane because it wasn’t just a change and the potential he saw in the side, he said: ‘I want my family to enjoy the new challenge as much as I would’. To take the family and let them experience a new city, a new environment, which I thought was a nice response.”
Cronk went through a similar experience late in his career when he linked up with the Roosters but even he admits to having not seen this Reynolds resurgence coming.
“It was a huge difference for a kid that grew up in South Sydney territory, loved the Bunnies, grew up as a local junior,” Cronk said.
“His family have known nothing else. Then he goes to a completely different team, different expectations… I didn’t see it [the Broncos improvement] but kudos to him, he’s been outstanding.”