Jamal Fogarty had just about convinced himself the NRL would be easy by the time he left school.
Why wouldn't it be? He was the Australian schoolboys halfback with a place in the Gold Coast Titans' under 20s team waiting for him.
The first grade debut he expected took six years to come. Even then, it took another three years to nail a consistent starting spot.
Ten years after leaving Palm Beach Currumbin State High School, he joins the Canberra Raiders with just 41 NRL games to his name.
Yet 27-year-old Fogarty is as determined as ever to be the man to steer the Green Machine back towards premiership contention after signing a three-year deal with the club.
Raiders fans are yearning for a finals return after going to close to a drought-breaking premiership. In a player market starved of halves, Fogarty might be just the man they need.
"Obviously coming out of school being an Australian schoolboy, you kind of think NRL is going to be easy and I'm going to stroll on in," Fogarty told The Canberra Times.
"For it to take a couple of different turns, I had to go and ply my trade at [Queensland] Cup level for a couple of years and find that balance of professionalism and what it takes to get my body right and to get mentally prepared for the weekly grind.
"A lot of that comes back to just having a hard work ethic and training your backside off because talent only gets you so far. I don't have talent falling off me where I can do whatever I want. I base myself as someone who is hard-working and has a little bit of skill.
"It's been a weird journey but the last couple of years has been awesome. I don't want to let that slip so I will definitely keep working hard and keep working on my game so I can stay in the NRL as long as possible."
Fogarty made 41 appearances for the Titans - 39 of which came in the past two seasons - but had fallen behind emerging prospect Toby Sexton in the pecking order.
It opened the door for a move to Canberra where Fogarty will learn from one of the game's all-time great halfbacks in Ricky Stuart.
He will partner Indigenous All Stars teammate and 2020 Dally M Medallist Jack Wighton as Canberra look to bounce back from a 10th-placed finish this year.
"To be honest, they reached out and inquired about my contract up here. Them doing that made me want to come down to the club, they gave a bit of interest and liked what I'm about as a footballer," Fogarty said.
"I just wanted to get on board and had a phone call with Sticky. We spoke about the game, himself, the club, the team, the style of footy I play, the things I'm good at and the things he can help me with.
Talent only gets you so far. I don't have talent falling off me where I can do whatever I want. I base myself as someone who is hard-working and has a little bit of skill.Jamal Fogarty
"Being a halfback myself trying to learn off one of the greats of our game as a head coach who has done it all, that's something I'm really looking forward to.
"Also the other guys in the squad, Sammy Williams is a very experienced player and so is Jacky Wighton so I think it's a good opportunity for myself to develop as a rugby league player down there under those guys.
"Canberra has been a strong team probably for the last six or seven years. They're always there at finals time. They're a gritty team and they've got a good roster.
"Last year they had a year where they could have won a lot more games than they did. That would have lit the fire in the belly to do better next year and in the years moving forward, and I want to be a part of that.
"Everyone down there gets behind their team, they've had some great years previously and I don't think it will be too far off getting back to that stage moving forward."
He pledges to bring control on field, with the wits to steer the team around the park with clear communication and free up the outside backs with time and space.
Yet Fogarty's decision to shift his wife, two daughters and two puppies from Gold Coast beaches to Canberra's cold winter goes beyond his on-field ambition to win a premiership. He wants to be a part of something more.
"I grew up in a small community where everyone chipped in and helped one another," Fogarty said.
"At the time you probably didn't think it made a difference, but if you sit back now, reflect and look back at it, you're kind of like 'those people played a massive part in my life to get me to where I am today'.
"They don't know that but I do, so I want to be able to do that for anyone else in the community.
"Even something as simple if I'm going to a school, kicking the footy with a couple of kids in grade two, I'll put my mindset as if I'm a little kid in grade two who just wants to muck around and have fun and put a smile on their face.
"You don't know the dramas that could be going on at home, or they could be having a tough day. But me having a simple conversation or kicking the footy, that might make their day or change their mood. I might not know that, but I'm hoping I can give myself a chance to provide them with that."
Fogarty already knows how he is going to break the ice with his new teammates. Long before he steps onto Canberra Stadium, he will jump into an ice bath wearing Budgy Smugglers with Josh Papalii's face on them.
Papalii's miraculous ankle tap on Fogarty during the 2020 NRL season - in which the Raiders giant sprinted 60 metres to run down the Gold Coast half - was immortalised in polyester.
"I'm thinking about wearing them on day one of pre-season training so when I jump into the ice bath the boys might have a bit of a chuckle. It might be a good way to break the ice," Fogarty said.
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