Queensland Maroons nice guy Christian Welch is starting 2021 off on the right note - on and off the field.
The 26-year-old admitted topping 2020 would be difficult, having won the NRL grand final with Melbourne Storm and State of Origin with the Maroons, but said he was putting in the hard yards to see if it was possible.
Off the field, Welch is fundraising for charity Camp Quality, because while he admitted 2020 was good for him, he understood it was tough for a lot of people.
"When you talk to family and friends, it's kind of 'how bad has 2020 been with COVID'... I look at it and it was probably the best year of my life in terms of footy and the experience and the journey we went on," Welch said, adding it was quite the journey for him and his Storm team mates.
"...getting kicked out of Victoria and not being able to train in Victoria pre-season, going to Albury, driving across the border, coming back, having three days notice to fly out of Melbourne before all the border issues.... then being based in Sydney for a while, and then obviously making our permanent base up at the Sunshine Coast and being away from home for so long.
"It was a crazy year but it kind of really brought the group together and I think we saw through the finals series how united the group was in trying to do something special. We'll be celebrating that premiership for a long time."
Welch said his "surreal year" continued with Origin and he could not be happier with how that went.
"Going into that bubble and playing back-to-back games... any time you get an opportunity to play for Queensland, I think it's such a special group of guys and staff... it's a real privilege to be part of it," Welch said.
Welch said so far this pre-season, the Storm squad had been "reviewing last year and seeing some areas of improvement we think we can make".
With Maroons and Storm legend Cameron Smith yet to make a call about his future, and yet to train with the squad, Welch said everyone was focused on what they could do heading into Round 1.
"Obviously we're going to have to make some adjustments with our hooker and the style of play Harry Grant and Brandon Smith like to play in comparison to Cam Smith," Welch said.
"It's a pretty big adjustment and a pretty big change in our spine... we're going to have to be really working hard on and really understanding the differences and strengths. We're mindful of that and just trying to keep building our connections.
"A couple of new guys have come in and we've had a few guys depart like Suliasi Vunivalu, so just working hard and building our foundation for hopefully a good Round 1 against Uncle Wayne."
Welch said he aimed to bring consistency every week for Storm, with the aim of playing Origin again.
"It's cliché, but basically my aim is to put in the work now for a big pre-season and hopefully have a good start to the year with Storm and put my name forward for the Maroons... I'm obviously trying to solidify that position in the Maroons side," Welch said.
"It's so competitive there. Particularly for us ruck forwards... it's a real pleasure playing with guys like Josh Papalii and obviously Tino moving up the Gold Coast... I miss seeing him every week.
"It's going to be really competitive getting back into that team and that's certainly in the back of my mind... always trying to push forward for that Maroons squad."
Welch said he donated signed 2020 Maroons gear to Camp Quality for a raffle to help them start 2021 off right.
"I've been working with them for a while... it stemmed from when I did my first ACL and I was walking through the hospital to see my surgeon to prepare for the big operation and I came across some kids and people doing it really tough... battling serious illness and not just battling a dodgy knee," Welch said.
"It gave me perspective on my life and how privileged I am with the life I live. I had an injury... it certainly pales in comparison to what these young kids are going through.
"I was lucky to have a great childhood growing up in Queensland... Townsville and Gladstone. These poor kids are stuck in chemo wards and hospitals for weeks on end. Just seeing their resilience and happiness at these camps, in really tough situations... it's really inspiring.
"I'm a trained volunteer so I've been lucky to go on a few camps and meet some kids, and obviously fundraising has been an important thing for me to try and raise much-needed funds.
"When you look at COVID, a lot of the revenue streams for these charities, hosting events... COVID shut down a lot of that, so I'm really excited about donating the Storm and Maroons gear and raising some funds through the raffles."