As far as unconventional playmaking journeys to the finals go, Kurt Mann and Cody Walker are something else.
Four years ago they were playing reserve grade together for Melbourne, struggling for a start at the most dominant club in the game. Mann managed to eke out 28 games for the Storm over the next two seasons, filling gaps as they arose. He has been doing a similar job at St George Illawarra, hoping to one day secure a spot in his preferred position in the halves.
Walker, meanwhile, was the latest of bloomers. The journeyman pivot had to wait until his 26th birthday to finally make his NRL debut. He did so at South Sydney in 2016 and has become a mainstay of the team.
On Saturday night they will oppose each other in the No.6 jerseys in what is the first Rabbitohs-Dragons finals clash in 34 years.
“Cody has been in some real good form,” Mann said. “I spent a bit of time with him in Melbourne for a couple of years there. I’ve played some footy with him as well.
“He is a competitor, that’s one thing I remember. He is a really good talker and organiser, a solid player all round. The thing I most remember is that he hates losing.
“I’m sure he will be ripping and tearing come game day.”
Mann was the centre or hooker in those reserve grade sides, while Walker played in the halves. On Saturday, Mann will fill in for injured skipper Gareth Widdop, hoping to prove to the league world he is capable of cementing a first-grade halves spot.
“Every chance I get to play in the halves I think it’s a good audition for me,” Mann said.
“You can’t pin it down to one game. If you want to play in the halves you have to be consistent.”
Mann will pair up with Ben Hunt, who rediscovered his best form in St George Illawarra’s upset win over Brisbane. Playing against his former team, in front of a hostile Suncorp Stadium crowd, the Queensland and Australian star shrugged off a series of inconsistent performances to keep his side’s premiership hopes alive.
“I've definitely got a smile on my face this week,” Hunt said.
“Whenever you win a finals game, it doesn't matter where you are or who you play, it's always a pretty good feeling.
“Everyone's happy and bouncing around training.”
Mann has been a victim of his own versatility, unable to secure a single position because of his ability to cover so many. However, Hunt has every confidence they will be able to again combine well in Widdop’s absence.
“I thought he was really good,” Hunt said.
“I know we didn't play the best footy or win all those games but I thought he did a great job in his role.
"We all know Kurt's a great runner of the ball and we just want to keep encouraging him this week that, if he sees an opportunity or sees something, we want him to take it on.”