They said it was a "career-killer", packing up and moving to Canberra to join a pack of misfits disguised as the ACT Brumbies.
David Giffin rolled the dice when he defected from Queensland in 1996. Yet some of his greatest memories were created inside Brumbies sheds or while wearing the ACT jersey.
He told today's Super Rugby AU contenders as much when he returned to the inner sanctum to have his Brumbies cap presented as the club honours the legacy of past players.
Akin to cricket's baggy green, a blue and gold cap is presented to every Brumbies player with their player number stitched into the side.
The tradition began in 2012. Every player from that year on, right up to Brumby No. 234 Sefo Kautai, has their cap. Now the Brumbies are making a concerted effort to hand one to every player who went before.
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Brumby No. 8 Owen Finegan was on hand at the SCG to present caps to No. 4 Giffin and No. 7 John Langford last week.
Days later Brumbies chief executive Phil Thomson handed No. 109 Tyrone Smith his in front of his group of students from Sydney Grammar.
Now their stories will fuel the Brumbies for a clash with the ladder-leading Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
"They're special moments for a lot of our players, they would have been young boys in that particular era when the Finegans, Giffins, Langfords and Smiths were running around," Brumbies coach Dan McKellar said.
"To be able to have them in the shed and understand they now play for the same club some of the greats of the game represented proudly is quite special.
"It's a pretty special club, the Brumbies, and we're just continually doing little things like this. We recognise our past, our old boys, our history. It ensures the legacy they all created continues to live on."
Because Thomson says "whether you were playing in 1996 or 2021, it means a lot to get on the field as a Brumby".
"The recognition of getting your first jersey and receiving your cap is pretty special in sport," Thomson said.
"We had Giffin and Langford last Friday night at the SCG, they spoke about what the Brumbies meant to them, how it was the best years of their life both on the field and off the field from a sporting perspective.
"Tyrone Smith was very appreciative of the opportunity the Brumbies gave him. It meant a lot to him. His words were 'the Brumbies family'."
SUPER RUGBY AU ROUND EIGHT
Saturday: Queensland Reds v ACT Brumbies at Lang Park, 7.45pm. Broadcast: Live on Stan Sport and Gem.
ACT Brumbies team: 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga'a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa (c), 4. Darcy Swain, 5. Cadeyrn Neville, 6. Rob Valetini, 7. Tom Cusack, 8. Pete Samu, 9. Nic White, 10. Noah Lolesio, 11. Andy Muirhead, 12. Irae Simone, 13. Len Ikitau, 14. Tom Wright, 15. Tom Banks. Replacements: 16. Lachlan Lonergan, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Sefo Kautai, 19. Nick Frost, 20. James Tucker, 21. Ryan Lonergan, 22. Bayley Kuenzle, 23. Mack Hansen.
Queensland Reds team: 1. Feao Fotuaika, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. Taniela Tupou, 4. Ryan Smith, 5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 6. Angus Scott-Young, 7. Fraser McReight, 8. Harry Wilson, 9. Tate McDermott, 10. James O'Connor (c), 11. Jock Campbell, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Hunter Paisami, 14. Jordan Petaia, 15. Bryce Hegarty. Replacements: 16. Alex Mafi, 17. Richie Asiata, 18. Zane Nonggorr, 19. Seru Uru, 20. Liam Wright, 21. Kalani Thomas, 22. Josh Flook, 23. Filipo Daugunu.
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