Josh Dugan's career prospects looked up the day he arrived in Wollongong for his first training session as a Dragon in 2013.
What has gone unnoticed and is often understated is the role an 18-year-old Jack Bird played in helping Dugan acclimatise to his new surroundings following a controversial few seasons at the Raiders.
Bird wouldn't make his first grade debut until he left the Dragons for the Sharks last season, meaning next Wednesday will be the first time the two will finally be able to run out in the same side – for the NSW Blues.
Remarkably it has taken State of Origin to bring them together on the field and the duo could hardly contain their excitement over the prospect.
"When he came to the Dragons I was probably one of the first blokes to get close to him. Even though I was one of the younger blokes, he and I just clicked," Bird told NRL.com.
"We've shared a bond ever since. We're a similar type of bloke so that's why I think we get along with each other so well.
"Having never played a game with Duges I'm really looking forward to playing with him, because he's finally back where he belongs."
An elbow injury was the reason Dugan missed Origin II a fortnight ago, when Bird made his NSW debut.
While he was disappointed to miss the occasion, Dugan was impressed by Bird's performance from the bench.
"I thought he shined in Game Two for the amount of time he got. I'm looking forward to seeing him come on and do his thing again next week," Dugan said.
"He was always a good player coming through the 20s so I'm definitely not shocked by how fast he's progressed. The Dragons fought hard to keep him for that reason.
"But I'm loving what he's done and how much further he has to go. We have the same personalities so when we met we clicked really easily and became good mates from there.
"He was a young kid coming through so I sorted put him under my wing and help him out as best I could. Our friendship grew from that."
Bar skipper Paul Gallen – who will retire from State of Origin following Game Three – Dugan is the fifth-most experienced representative player in New South Wales' 17.
Dugan admits he now sees himself increasingly playing a leadership role within the team, and that was reflected in his decision to pull out of Origin I on the Sunday prior due to his elbow woes.
"I was in the shower for half hour that morning and was tossing and turning all night because there were so many things going through my head. Whether I was to try and play, that kind of thing," Dugan said of his Game One late withdrawal.
"I thought about it the whole time and I finally came to the decision that if it wasn't right, I didn't want to go out there and only last five, 10 minutes and leave the boys one short. Luckily Loz (NSW coach Laurie Daley) respected my decision in putting the team first.
"I've taken the mindset now where I'll help out anyone if I can," Dugan added.
"It's my ninth Origin now and I feel like I'm making that step now to become a leader in the group and I'm really looking forward to that challenge."
This article first appeared on NRL.com
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