Mark Nicholls is the epitome of what hard work and resilience can get you in life.
His former Canberra Raiders teammate David Shillington said for the South Sydney prop to start in the NRL grand final against the Penrith Panthers was a massive achievement - given where he's come from.
The 31-year-old took until his 10th season in the NRL to bring up his 100th game and only started for the second time this year.
Twice he's gone about two years between NRL games - once as a Raider and the second time when he was with the Melbourne Storm.
But he's found a home at Souths under Wayne Bennett and will lead an underrated Rabbitohs forward pack against their more fancied Penrith counterparts, like James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo.
Shillington said it was a testament to Nicholls' resilience and character to persist for so long.
Nicholls was a fringe player during his early years at the Raiders, stuck behind middle forwards like Shillington, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Dane Tilse and Brett White.
Then Paul Vaughan and Shannon Boyd came through the ranks just after Nicholls - before then going past him.
Vaughan's career's now at a crossroads after St George Illawarra sacked him for breaking coronavirus protocols, while injuries forced Boyd to retire last year.
But Nicholls is at the peak of his powers and at the peak of the game.
"It's a massive achievement that he's playing for the Rabbitohs in a grand final this weekend considering where he was five years ago, 10 years ago," Shillington said.
"Just a testament to his character. A lot of players, if they're not naturally gifted, they'll fall by the wayside and probably drop out of the game - if they make it in first grade at all.
"But he's the epitome of what resilience and hard work gets you in life and he's been really rewarded for that resilience and hard work in what's an incredible achievement to make the grand final with the Rabbitohs - and they're a bloody good chance to win it too."
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But Shillington said Nicholls will need to play the game of his life against the Panthers pack, which also boasts Moses Leota and Liam Martin, at Lang Park on Sunday.
While the Panthers will go in as favourites, having lost last year's grand final to the Storm, Shillington backed Souths to cause an upset by four points.
"He's going to have to play the game of his life - as will the other Rabbitohs forwards," Shillington said.
"That Penrith forward pack are pretty brutal. They've got the speed, the size, the agility, they want to hurt people.
"The Rabbitohs defence has been top of the comp the last few weeks and they've probably surprised a few people in these semis - they won those games off the back of their defence.
"He's going to have to maintain the high standard with his pack, but also take that team forward."
NRL GRAND FINAL
Sunday: Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs at Lang Park, 7.30pm.