Newcastle Knights unearth a gem in NRL rookie prop Josh King

Newcastle Knights prop Josh King on the tools at his 'real' job Bulga Coal Mine

Josh King is the NRL rookie who is a throwback to rugby league's "good old days" -- when first-grade footy provided players with a little extra pocket money to complement their normal salary.

His name suggests blue blood but King is more blue collar; hailing from the working-class town of Singleton in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, he's earning rave reviews on the football park but it's in the Bulga coal mine near Newcastle where the Knights prop plies his real trade.

"At the moment I'm doing my electrical apprenticeship so I work fulltime, then on a Friday I go to TAFE for my trade," King tells ESPN.

"Sometimes I'll go to Newcastle and I won't come home for a week because I'll go to TAFE, I'll have training and I'll fly to Townsville or something to play footy.

"I usually have to have a few bags packed to get me around but I manage."

Like most young boys, King first started playing rugby league because it's what his mates did; never did he consider it would lead to a potentially lucrative living.

The infamous Super League war of the mid- to late-90s changed the landscape forever; it is a period widely recognised as the time when rugby league matured into a fully professional code.

King was just two-years-old when Super League split the game, when his heroes held a football on weekends and fulltime jobs during the week.

But almost overnight, the days of players earning honest four-figure contracts in addition to modest match payments of $300 per win and $100 per loss were gone.

Some of the game's most recognisable stars including Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart and Bradley Clyde became instant millionaires -- signing long-term contracts worth in excess of $Aus700,000 per year by pledging allegiance to the Rupert Murdoch-funded breakaway competition.

King, born in the Hunter Valley town of Maitland, is used to a more humble lifestyle; the mining industry seems a natural career path, but his primary focus is to have a dig in the NRL.

"I feel it's pretty important that I get something behind me that I can fall back on but football is where my focus is and that's really what I want to be doing," King tells ESPN.

"My mind is 100 percent set on playing in the NRL, hopefully fulltime one day, but to do that I feel I need to have something else behind me to be able to back myself."

And King is backing himself by undertaking an exhaustive weekly schedule that requires a lot of careful planning, a great deal of support, and plenty of understanding people.

Work commitments alone wipe out 45 hours of his week, and then he also has to factor in a full day in the TAFE classroom even before contemplating the demands of being an NRL player.

When his Newcastle teammates spent the day preparing for their round 12 Monday Night Football clash with Parramatta, King rolled his sleeves up and went to work for a six-hour shift in the mines.

"I got up about 5.30 a.m., went to work at about 7 a.m. and then I left work at about 1 p.m.; came home, had something to eat, got ready, went down to the game and played footy..

"I played footy that night then on the Tuesday I went to work again; but I worked a 12-hour day to make up my time I left early on the Monday."

Considering the cut-throat, results-driven environment of the NRL, Knights coach Nathan Brown is, perhaps surprisingly, one of King's biggest supporters.

Brown could be forgiven for adopting a selfish approach; the Knights' results have been well below expectation in his first year at the club, yet he has still given King his blessing to continue his studies.

But Brown is fully aware of King's potential, and he has identified the Singleton Greyhounds junior as a player the Knights can build a future around despite the fact he rarely attends more than one training session a week.

King accepts he is "very lucky".

"At the start of the week I'll go to [Brown] and tell him this is how my schedule looks," he tells ESPN. "Brownie's response is usually 'sweet, do what you can'.

"I'm trying to juggle it myself but I'm doing it with a massive support network behind me.

"It wouldn't happen without mum and dad, work being so understanding, without the coaches at the Knights looking after me. It's a collective group that's allowing me to do this; it's not just me."

Newcastle have endured a nightmare season and King's record is even worse: He is yet to win a game since making his NRL debut in Round 7 against Brisbane Broncos.

King played off the bench against a star-studded Broncos pack brimming with six representative forwards; the Knights lost the match 53-0 but King failed to lose his positive outlook.

"It's been a pretty tough year especially from my perspective. I'm yet to win a game of football this year.

"I still consider how lucky I am - working in the mines is a pretty good job.

"To be able to go away and play NRL football on the back of it; it's just a dream."