Sharks young Kiwi still looks up to Todd Carney
Todd Carney's reputation is irreparably damaged, however Fa'amanu Brown has nothing but praise for an idol-turned-mentor who inadvertently facilitated the Christchurch teenager's unexpected rise to the NRL.
Despite being sacked by Cronulla after an image of the playmaker urinating towards his mouth was circulated on social media, Carney's standing will never drop in the 19-year-old's estimation.
After Brown took part in a coaching clinic with holidaying school kids at the Sharks' home ground, he spoke in reverential terms of how his predecessor at five-eighth had assisted his development as a rookie first grader.
''I sent him a text the other day when things went wrong. I said, 'Mate, thank you so much for everything you've done for me to get to where I am now','' Brown told Fairfax Media as he reflected on Carney's better side.
''When he was injured and I was in at half I always got him to give me some advice and critique. He'd always turn up to training even when he wasn't supposed to be there. He'd turn up and watch me the whole time and tell me what to do.
''I know deep inside he's a good man.''
Carney replied to Brown's message with a simple ''thanks'' - in person at Remondis Stadium their conversations were more extensive.
''When he was here I was telling him ''Do you know how weird this is for me just talking to you about footy? I remember when I was about 10 years old I was looking at you on TV and I was thinking how do I get where you are?'
''And now I'm here in his shoes. He said 'Mate, I'm your friend now, I'm not your icon or a celebrity to you now'.''
Brown also recognises the influence of another supporter who made a sudden exit from the club a day after Carney.
Interim head coach Peter Sharp, who was always a reluctant standin for the suspended Shane Flanagan, resigned after calling in sick - chronologically the latest setback of a tumultuous year.
Sharp was responsible for handing Brown, the under-20s captain, his debut against St George Illawarra last month at five-eighth for the injured Carney.
''He gave me that opportunity and I'll always be grateful,'' said Brown, who now plays under the coach who scouted him during a trial held by the Halswell Hornets in 2012.
James Shepherd noticed the then 17-year-old after Brown's best mate Penani Manumalealii suggested the utility was worth considering.
Shepherd, who was coaching the Sharks' under-20s team until his promotion, was impressed and a month later Brown was offered a contract to play SG Ball (under-18s) and then Holden Cup.
The Melbourne Storm were also interested but SG Ball was not an option so Brown would have to stay another year in Christchurch before relocating.
The youngest of nine children, Brown was also attracted to Sydney because Manumalealii was already at the club.
''I didn't want to be alone,'' he explained, not that the transition from his earthquake-ravaged home town was smooth.
''My mum and dad, without them ... I was crying every night for the first month. It was hard to focus on football because I was always worrying about my parents, wondering if they're in danger or not.''
Brown moved into a homestay with five other juniors from out of town and ultimately was the only one to tough it out - a useful quality given the turmoil that has swamped the Sharks since the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority probed the club in February last year.
Since then Flanagan has been suspended for 12 months, prop Andrew Fifita has been on the verge of joining the Bulldogs, the injury toll has been severe and captain Paul Gallen publicly questioned Sharp's commitment before he stepped aside.
Cronulla also became the first club to be held scoreless for three successive matches, with Brown featuring against the Dragons (30-0) and Manly (26-0).
''The [stand-in] captain Wade Graham said: 'You'll never see something like this happen in a club again and the good thing about it is you know the only way is up."
''I guess it's a good thing for me to see that because if I do reach that low point again I'll know how to handle it again because I've been through this,'' said Brown, who skipped the NSW Cup phase of his development to play four first-grade games.
''I knew some time I was going to get a shot but not this year.
''When the [Carney] issue happened I knew I had to step up. I'm not filling his shoes but as long as I do what the coach and the older boys tell me what to do I know I'll be fine.''
Brown's childhood hero Benji Marshall also provided some reassurance after he marked the former Wests Tigers and Kiwis captain when making his debut.
''He came and shook my hand after my debut and just said to me 'Mate, you've got a big future ahead of yourself, just make sure you stay on top of your game, and stay focused on footy only','' Brown said.
''I definitely understood what he means because a lot of kids these days my age, as soon as they play NRL they think they've made it.
''For me it's about maintaining a spot week-in, week-out for as many years as you can and being an inspirational to younger kids growing up and Benji has definitely been an inspiration in my life,'' said Brown, who is contracted until the end of 2017.