It was a piece of advice from Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson that inspired Jake Averillo to produce a moment to remember in his first-grade debut.
The scene had been set for his childhood dream to turn into reality after he received his jersey from Jackson just before kick-off against North Queensland last Thursday night.
Averillo also received a surprise video message from his family, who were at ANZ Stadium that night but unable to visit the dressing room due to COVID-19 protocols.
While he was on the verge of tears as he watched his mum, dad and partner send a final good luck message, it was Jackson’s inspirational address that rendered him speechless.
‘He said that ‘you’re one of the most talented players that I’ve seen at your age,’ and that blew me away to be honest,” Averillo told NSWRL.com.au
“It’s probably the biggest rap you can get.
“He pulled me aside (again) and told me just to back my ability and make sure I get some early touches, and not to be afraid to run the ball, because that’s what I’m good at.”
While the Bulldogs were unable to complete the fairy-tale after going down 24-16 to the Cowboys, the 19-year-old will always reflect on the moment with enormous pride.
He replaced halfback Lachlan Lewis midway through the second-half, and despite playing centre for the past two seasons, felt right at home when he slotted into his preferred position of five-eighth.
He showed exactly what he could do in the dying stages of the contest with a deft grubber for Christian Crichton to score in the right-hand corner.
It was the faith that Jackson and the rest of the Bulldogs squad had instilled in Averillo that gave him the confidence to come up with that moment of magic.
“I told (Brandom Wakeham) to give me the ball early and I had a look up and I noticed the fullback was all on the way of the other side of the field,” he said.
“The boys had a lot of confidence in me and were telling me to back myself, and we didn’t have that much to lose at that point in the game so I thought why not?”