Andy Saunders never wanted to leave Penrith.
But giving up his comforts – foregoing all he’d known since moving from Quirindi in the pursuit of an NRL dream – that’s exactly what he did.
First finding his feet at the foot of the mountains as a teenager, Saunders starred in his rise throughout the Panthers’ lauded junior ranks, earning praise from some of the game’s most revered judges along the way.
A Panthers NRL start out of reach – or as it was at the time – the now-23-year-old signed with the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs ahead of the 2017 season.
Earning his first grade debut in Round 18 that year, Saunders was not again sighted in the top grade before in 2018, he inked a part-time deal with the Wentworthville Magpies.
Six weeks into the new season, so fate would have it, Saunders is back where it all began.
“It’s funny, I’m a big believer in that everything happens for a reason,” Saunders tells NSWRL.com.au.
“It’s just crazy to think how things turn out – it’s a pretty big coincidence I’m here today, playing the Bulldogs. I’ve been lucky the way things have fallen into place.
“I started my career out here with Penrith, played all my ‘20s’ and spent a few years out here. It’s great to be back in these colours.”
Coming off the interchange bench in the Panthers’ 34-16 win over the Bulldogs in Round 6 of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, Saunders impressed – heavily involved in both attack and defence.
Representing the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Residents side before making his NRL debut last season, the towering prop is hungry to see more time in the top grade.
“That was a dream come true last year, playing first grade. Hopefully this year I can push my way back into the [Panthers] NRL squad,” Saunders says.
“At the end of the day, that’s why we play football, to play in the NRL.
“But at the moment I’m just focussing on getting some metres back in the legs, getting fit and playing good footy for Guy [Missio].”
And again, as fate would have it, Saunders gets a taste of his past in the Panthers’ Round 7 fixture at ANZ Stadium.
“We’ve got ‘Wenty’ – I couldn’t believe it when I looked at the draw,” Saunders laughs.
“Most definitely there’s a little bit of a point to prove next week.
“But it’s just great to be back and being happy, playing footy again.”