It was almost two years ago when Cronulla thought Ben Hampton could be their man.
Long before the Sharks had struck gold with the signings of playmakers James Maloney and Chad Townsend, the club were eyeing off Hampton as a possible solution in the halves.
“There was a little bit of talk there, but there was never a formal contract put through. I probably would’ve jumped at it at the time if anything had come through,” Hampton told AAP.
But he stayed and, despite further interest to leave Melbourne over the past year, was swayed by coach Craig Bellamy into staying following the retirement of Ryan Hinchcliffe last year.
“Craig spoke to me before the end of the year last year and before the pre-season of this season about that spot opening up as a utility player off the bench,” Hampton said.
“He said I’d have a real good chance and he’d give me a real good crack at it. I saw that as my opportunity and I took it with both hands. I ended up playing pretty much the whole season.”
Now Hampton will attempt to ruin the Sharks’ push for a fairytale maiden premiership when he comes off the bench in Sunday’s NRL decider at ANZ Stadium.
And in an ultimate sliding doors moment, once the 80 minutes are over, he will then be preparing for life as understudy to future Immortal Johnathan Thurston at North Queensland.
Despite an opportunity to replace another departing Storm member in Blake Green, Hampton said he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to move closer to home.
“Being from Cairns originally, I couldn’t knock it back,” he said.
“When it does all come to an end, and the game’s over and the celebrations are all over, it’ll hit me. It’ll be an emotional time. This place is all I know.”
A premiership would certainly justify his decision to stay at the Storm, a reward for at least five years of waiting for a spot in coach Craig Bellamy’s top 17 – having mostly filled in for injured playmakers since making his debut in 2013, before stepping into a utility role this season.