North Queensland centre Justin O’Neill will be living out a boyhood dream when he runs out for the NRL grand final against Brisbane on Sunday.
Most would say that the 24-year-old has already achieved that, winning the NRL premiership in 2012 with his former club Melbourne, where he spent five seasons.
In his first season with North Queensland, O’Neill said a title with the Cowboys would be something special.
Originally from Hughenden, almost 400 kilometres west of Townsville, where he attended school, O’Neill and his brothers Paul and Samsen grew up big Cowboys fans.
Samsen, 20, is also contracted to North Queensland while eldest brother Paul plays for Townsville club Brothers.
“Growing up with my brothers the Cowboys were always close to my heart and we always supported the Cowboys and were at their games,” O’Neill said.
“Now to be playing with the Cowboys in a grand final, it’s childhood dream and to be living that dream is very exciting.”
While he’s one of the few North Queensland players to have won an NRL premiership, O’Neill isn’t expecting to be handing out advice to his teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of experience in the team; there’s Test and Origin players so there’s a lot of experience in high quality football and they’re the leaders in the team so we can look to them,” he said.
O’Neill had a very shaky start to his new career in Townsville, making eight unforced errors in two early games.
It didn’t help that he’d arrived north with only a few games to his name in his final season in Melbourne due to injury.
He said it had taken a while to find his feet at the club and was thankful coach Paul Green had backed him.
“I knew that I wasn’t how I played footy but it really helped having the coaching staff show confidence in me.
“It gives you confidence and then getting consistent games and playing week in and out helps with that and I feel really comfortable and am honing in on playing some great footy again.