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Pulling no punches in the ring, Saab jumps out of the fast lane for a bumpier ride

Andrew Mathieson -

A daring Jason Saab gave his first indication that the proud Anaiwan man is willing enough to leave the NRL after auditioning to swap careers to fight professionally.

But that alternate path into boxing could depend on whether achieving his lifetime ambition to play State of Origin for New South Wales comes sooner rather than later.

The Manly winger whose career has taken off since leaving St George-Illawarra at the end of 2020 made his in-ring debut on Saturday night.

But the drawcard appearance in suburban Sydney was certainly not on some glitzy undercard, filled with several of his high-profile rugby league adversaries punching on.

Just a few hundred punters rather than the typical thousands that show up for a Paul Gallen, Tevita Pangai Jr or even Justin Hodges fight each handed over $70 to cover his modest payday of a few thousand dollars at the more modest Revesby Workers Club.

Saab left Sea Eagles teammates that turned up feeling thrilled with the TKO win against fellow rookie Kusitino Sireli, whose corner threw in the towel to concede the contest inside the final minute of the second round.

Sireli pulled away from engaging with Saab at one point after dislocating a shoulder, forcing the less than imposing Fijian to exit the ring cradling his arm in discomfort.

"It's a bit disappointing to win like that, but I'm just grateful that I won and that I am healthy," Saab said at ringside afterwards on the night.

"But I felt the decision was going that way anyway.

"He was tired, and he didn't look like he wanted too big a part of it anymore."

That kind of reaction of wanting to challenge his mettle, while arguably the fastest man in rugby league, but instead between the ropes also dispelled the unscathed boxer's hunger for the fight game and that it was not all just a publicity stunt.

At the start of preseason for a far more lucrative deal that boxing could give Saab for a number of years, the decision for Manly to give permission to its try-scoring source to shamelessly trade blows appears on the surface somewhat strange.

Saab had only walked into pugilism with no amateur background whatsoever before signed up with the club.

But under its strength and conditioning training regime, the 23-year-old crept into the ring two years ago to build a more physical presence on the football field.

That might sound odd when rival wingers look up, only to notice Saab stands on two metres tall and weighs a touch over 100 kilograms.

"Not being the most physical player I can be and should be sometimes, I just thought boxing (training) was aiding that a bit," Saab first told the Sydney Morning Herald in the final weeks leading into Saturday's fight.

"The weeks that I did the training, I was a bit more physical on the field.

"I thought by doing this, I'm putting myself in a really uncomfortable position.

"It's not about money for me either; it's a local show.

"I'm not making $20-$30k – it's about testing myself as a person, testing my character to see what I'm really made of.

"I want to see how it transfers to my footy season when it comes to being physical."

Saab has progressively honed his punching technique to an ability that not only did club boxing coach Hassan El-Achrafi approve of entering into the ring for real, but meticulous Manly coach Anthony Seibold also had no problem with the move.

This policy might sound unsafe considering that Saab's contract now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is being put on the line.

But for the Sea Eagles to find an edge to gain those few extra victories next season to break into the final eight is supposedly worth testing that risk and reward theory.

"He was very happy for me to do it because he can see the affect it is going to have on me: the positive impact," Saab said.

"Of course, there are going to be risks involved, but Seibs could see there is more good to come out of it than not that it will help our footy team if I'm more physical."

But there's also the other side of the coin that is tempting Saab to trust his instinct and get completely out of his comfort zone for good.

He has no lack of confidence in the promoters that have overseen Tim Tszyu's rise up the boxing ranks.

The No Limit promotion did have the Indigenous man with Nigerian blood set to fight one-time Dragons teammate Zac Lomax before the latter had to withdrawal out of the bout over its timing this year.

That change slid Saab down the pecking order to a potentially different card that brought down his cash value, but not the value of plying his latest trade from the bottom up.

Already running in 51 tries over just 69 matches, rugby league still remains the higher priority of the two sports but that could all turnaround after Saab's contract expires.

"I am just trying to be the best athlete and person I can be," Saab said.

"If that means taking opportunities to box, play rugby league and the like, then so be it.

"I have really high expectations of myself this year: I want to make the Origin squad.

"I'm going to shoot for the moon next year, and I want to achieve everything that is possible."

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