Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
'I was deluded': Conway reveals game-changing chat
Rising Blues fast bowler reflects on his first meeting with NSW coach Phil Jaques, which helped transform his career
15 October 2020, 01:58 PM AEST
As far as honest conversations go, there would be few as frank as the one between NSW coach Phil Jaques and fast bowler Harry Conway two years ago.
Having been appointed to the top job at the Blues ahead of the 2018-19 summer, Jaques sat down with his lanky, charismatic right-armer, who thought his career was on track at the powerhouse state.
How wrong he was.
"When Phil took over as the head coach he gave me a pretty honest appraisal of where he thought I was and it was completely in opposition to where I thought I was," said Conway, a former Australia Under-19 representative who at that point had captured 24 wickets in 11 first-class games for NSW over three seasons.
"I was a little bit deluded. I think I was faking it until I made it.
"He just said, 'This is where you're at: you've got one year to run on your contract and it's do-or-die now if you don't pull your finger out. You need to work harder, form a relationship with Andre (Adams, Blues bowling coach and former NZ seamer) and just see where that takes you. If not, there's no two ways about it – you're going to be gone'.
"It was really hard to hear but it was exactly what I needed, and I clicked into gear.
"I stopped blaming everyone else, making excuses and I just worked myself into the ground."
Jaques knows a thing or two about work ethic. You don't get the nickname 'The Pro' for taking shortcuts.
The former Blues and Australia opener was hired at Moore Park after NSW went backwards for three straight seasons under former coach Trent Johnston.
He was given full backing from the Cricket NSW board to blood youngsters with potential. He saw potential in Conway, but felt it was going to waste.
"I certainly do remember the chat," Jaques told cricket.com.au. "He was basically just scratching the surface with how much he could actually achieve in the game.
"He definitely made a shift with his attitude and the way he approached things and he's a completely different guy to what he was back then.
"He's looking for work now, stuff to get better at, and it's showing on the park for him."
The work for Conway started with Adams, who joined Jaques' support staff two months after the head coach's appointment.
While he touched on technique with Adams, it was from a mental and emotional perspective that Conway made the biggest gains.
Known as a larrikin among his peers, Conway would be bursting with energy when things were going well, but when they weren't, he would go inside his shell.
It led to inconsistent performances, and when the game was on the line, it wasn't Conway who his captain Peter Nevill would call on.
That's where Adams has made a difference.
"Andre was massive for that stuff," Conway said. "He said, 'You're a big personality, emotional guy but coming into this system your highs can be too high and your lows too low. It's not a healthy way to bowl.
"'We want that big, bright personality but we need someone that everyone wants to play with and they can actually rely on you on the field'.
"That's where the massive shift came."
In addition to his mindset switch, Conway changed the way he trained.
He hired a personal trainer, Trent Langlands, to sharpen his mind and body through boxing and did extra sessions on his days off as he aimed to be the fittest and strongest he could be.
He was also told by Test quicks Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood that, to be potent on flat Australian wickets, he needed to add muscle and find a yard of pace.
Add muscle he did at the expense of body fat, shedding five kilograms while becoming stronger, leaner and faster.
More honest conversations followed with senior teammates like Nevill, Moises Henriques and former Blues spinner Stephen O'Keefe, who put the onus on Conway to set an example for NSW's reservoir of young talent.
"They use that analogy that, 'If we turn up to the ground, would you be one of the players your teammates would look to?'" said Conway.
"I certainly wasn't that guy. That was what it was like before the chat with Jaques.
"The past two years, regardless of where the game's at or who is in, whether you want the ball or not, (I've aimed) to be a good bowler and a good role model for our players.
"That's something I'm really proud to say I've changed."
The season following the Jaques chat, 2018-19, Conway collected 22 wickets at 20.13 in seven Shield games, including a career-best 5-14 against arch-rivals Victoria at Drummoyne Oval.
NSW lost the Shield final to the Vics that year, with Conway coming on at first change and taking four wickets.
The loss fueled the Blues' fire for the next season, as it did Conway's who, having earned a new contract, produced a stunning performance in the opening match against Queensland at the Gabba.
The fiery quick was a man possessed in taking 5-17 and 5-39 – his maiden 10-wicket haul.
NSW won the truncated Shield season, with Conway finishing as the Blues' equal leading wicket-taker alongside seasoned seamer Trent Copeland with 25 wickets at 21.32, 10 runs cheaper per wicket than his teammate.
The last hurdle Conway had to overcome was a chip on his shoulder in the form of the Blues' Aussie quicks Mitchell Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins.
Conway initially resented the trio automatically earning selection when available, but that is no longer the case as he soaks up their experiences whenever they're wearing the sky blue, as they were during pre-season.
"It was definitely a curse," Conway said when asked if being in a squad with the Test trio was a blessing or a curse.
"I came from a private school, I didn't really use my ears as much as my mouth. But now it's absolutely a blessing.
"I love those blokes and I always will them on to do as well as they can. They're such good blokes, they help you as much as they can.
"I've always loved working with the Josh Hazlewood. The last two years I've worked with him 5-10 times and every time I walk away from a session with him I've always learnt something from his feedback; lovely bloke and someone I'd love to emulate moving forward.
"When they play I just want to be part of the team, whereas a few years ago I just couldn't see it or believe it – I didn't have any self-belief.
"That's where the big shift has come."
With Starc unlikely to play in NSW's first Shield match this summer and both Hazlewood and Cummins on IPL duty, it could be Conway who leads the Blues attack on Monday against Western Australia.
It's another step up for a man who is a different fast bowler from the one who was floored by his coach's words two years ago.
But while he might have changed as a cricketer, his goal remains the same.
"First and foremost, I want NSW to go back-to-back in the Shield, I want us to win the final, have a big year and contribute as much as I can," he said.
"Test cricket is absolutely the goal. I'm not delusional, I know it's going to take an opportunity through an unfortunate injury to the guys that are ahead of me, the three or four bowlers behind the 'cartel' that are in front of me, I totally appreciate that.
"But I'm not going to stop until I achieve that goal of playing for Australia in Test cricket."