Alan Tongue walked into the change room for his NRL debut and had to pinch himself.
The little tackling machine from Tamworth was about to play alongside Laurie Daley, Brett Mullins, David Furner and Jason Croker in his first game for the Canberra Raiders.
He was about to run on to the field to play against a stacked Brisbane Broncos side, boasting the likes of Shane Webcke, Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Darren Lockyer, Kevin Walters and Gorden Tallis.
That moment in 2000 paints the perfect picture of Tongue's career, because while he was never the biggest or the best, he belonged next to rugby league's biggest names.
"You know and every [rugby league] fan knows, I wasn't the most gifted rugby league player to lace on a boot," Tongue said.
"But I came to Canberra with determination and passion, and I tried to make the most of it. Sometimes I sit back and say, 'wow, did that all really happen?'
"What I'm grateful for is that I made the most of my opportunities."
Tongue will be inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame at a function on November 29 in recognition of his brilliant 220-game career with the Raiders and a legacy that lives beyond numbers.
The former Green Machine skipper is definitely selling himself short when he says he wasn't gifted.
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Yes, his style wasn't the eye-catching tries or the barnstorming runs.
But Tongue possessed what coaches dream of finding: the biggest heart in rugby league.
That's why he threw his 87 kilogram frame in front of the biggest players in the NRL, setting a record for the most tackles in a single season in 2005 before breaking his own record the next year.
He was a cult hero to the fans because of his red hair and gritty determination. He was a leader and inspiration for his teammates because of his fearless attitude.
His life in Canberra, however, almost never happened. He was in the Brisbane junior system and was weighing up NRL offers when a steak at the Kingston Hotel convinced him Canberra had the country-town feel he loved.
"Someone asked me the other day what the standout moment of my career was. My debut really jumps out playing with against those big names," Tongue said.
"Then when I captained the side for the first time in 2007. I'd always been a player who battled to get a spot on the bench.
"When I was captain, I tried to reflect about the opportunity. That's something I hold closely to my heart.
"I knew it would take a lot of hard work and when I got to Canberra I knew I'd only get one crack at it.
"I was never the biggest guy. I was challenged to play in different positions and that helped me get longevity. That's a big part of the reason I got to play longer than most people would have thought.
"The thing I loved most about rugby league? The mateship that drives you. Nothing compares to it. I wanted to get the best out of myself and I wanted to do well for my club and teammates, that drove me."
Tongue was perhaps one of the unluckiest players to have never been given a State of Origin shot.
He was the NRL's captain of the year and lock of the year in 2008, he played for the Prime Minister's XIII and represented NSW Country in a career spanning 11 years before his body finally told him it was time to retire in 2011.
Tongue's determination and commitment didn't stop when he hung up the boots, either.
He was also the ACT Australian of the Year in 2016 in recognition for his youth intervention and rehabilitation programs with the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, the Alexander Maconochie Centre and disengaged youth in Canberra's schools.
Now he is being inducted into an elite category of Canberra sportspeople, joining softball champion Jeff Goolagong and tennis administrator Ken Willis in the 2019 intakes.
"It's a really, really big honour to be in the hall of fame. I came to Canberra with a childhood dream and to be recognised like this, it's really special," Tongue said.
"I came down here as an 18-year-old, I was welcomed into the community and the Raiders played as massive part of my life in developing as a person and as a rugby league player. It was my honour to play the game."
He finished his playing days as a one-club player, turning down opportunities to leave the capital to be a Raiders man until the end.
His heart still bleeds green, riding the wave this year as the Raiders charged into their first grand final in 25 years.
"At the end of the day it was the determination and desire for me. I was always rugby league-mad as a kid," Tongue said.
"It's no secret throughout my time at the Raiders we were in a huge rebuilding period. We had some ups and downs with off-field dramas ... we didn't have the stability.
"When you see the [Raiders] get their opportunity to get into the grand final, I was so happy. You know it's special because you can put your heart and soul into it, but you might never get there. I didn't, that's why I was so happy for them this year."