Sharks debutant to mark idol Benji Marshall
Fa'amanu Brown broke down when he heard he was making his NRL debut for Cronulla tomorrow night - though fortunately the Christchurch teenager has not added to the Sharks crippling injury toll.
The 19-year-old utility teared up when he realised his first grade debut involved marking his childhood idol, former Kiwis and Wests Tigers maestro Benji Marshall.
"I started crying as soon as I heard I was playing against him, especially when he's on my edge. He's been a massive icon for me since I was 12," said Brown, who would start at five-eighth when the bottom-placed Sharks played St George Illawarra at Wollongong's WIN Stadium.
"Just watching his highlights on YouTube... I'm still buzzing."
Brown, who joined the Sharks in 2012 after being scouted by the club while playing for the Hornby Panthers, might be in awe of Marshall - despite his struggles since returning from a failed switch to rugby - but Todd Carney has been the focus this week.
He replaces the former Kangaroos and New South Wales playmaker in a halves combination also missing first choice halfback Jeff Robson - all up the Sharks were missing 11 players, amounting to 1356 games worth of first grade of experience, for the round 13 clash.
To further emphasise the challenge confronting Brown, only one member of the first choice backline would be on the field to offer assistance - fullback turned centre Michael Gordon.
Fortunately, however, Carney has been a willing advisor as he continued to recover from his latest hamstring injury.
"He's been teaching me on and off the field, giving me advice on what to do and what not to do. I'm thankful for that," said Brown, who would have been tapping Marshall for information had he joined the Sharks - as expected - instead of their local rivals.
A promising playmaker who could also slot in at centre or hooker, Brown was naturally nervous about making his NRL debut in a seriously depleted team, though the Sharks under-20s captain could at least talking a good game.
"I'm heaps nervous, but I'm definitely ready. It's going to be exciting to see how it goes," said Brown, who had his first taste of NRL-style football when he played in February's Auckland Nines at Eden Park.
"It's a dream come true," he said of a breakthrough season - and the reality is his future is also secure because two days after being promoted by coach Peter Sharp, Brown signed a contract extension through to the end of the 2017 season.
"It's been a massive week, I didn't expect it to come this early," he said, before thoughts turned to home.
"Obviously I can help my parents for the next three years."