Matt Robinson's mates from the Warriors thought he was mad when he announced he was trading in Auckland for Penrith.
Not because following Ivan Cleary would be bad for his career – indeed, Robinson chalked up his fourth NRL game for the Panthers in the loss to the Warriors on Monday.
But to play for Penrith requires you to live in Penrith.
"It gets a bad rap, absolutely, and when I moved over, a few of the Warriors boys now based in Sydney said, `you're moving out to Penrith'?" Robinson said.
"They were in shock, telling me how bad it was, but no, it's not as bad as everyone says. There's some real hard-working, genuine people out here and it's not a bad place, I like it."
Hard-working and genuine just about sums Robinson up.
The backrower from Wellington has inherited the work ethic of his plumber/drainlayer father Peter and mother Michelle, who works for Porirua City Council helping youth find jobs.
Now 22, Robinson juggled rugby for Hutt International Boys' School's first XV and league for the Porirua Vikings premiers before realising in year 13 that he needed to make a call. "I chose league, to the disgust of my grandparents, who are rugby fans."
Robinson's progress in Wellington was noticed by the Warriors and he spent two years with their champion under-20s team before a year with the fulltime squad last season.
But while unable to get an NRL game under Cleary last season, he's got four this year.
He got a bit of stick at the Warriors about his destination coinciding with the coach's.
"It wasn't so much we were going together, it was sort of coincidence. But it worked out pretty well because he'd seen me for a couple of years, he knew what I was about and what I could offer to the team. So in that respect it worked out pretty well."
Robinson made his first-grade debut against Wests Tigers in round seven.
His recollections of that week are hazy. "Ivan called me into his office and sat me down and said, `congratulations'.
"I was in shock, it was just a dream come true. I stood there looking at him, nodding, gobsmacked, a bit like a stunned mullet and just walked out and said, `thanks, mate'.
"The whole week was just surreal; the game itself, I was nervous, excited, everything coming at once. I don't really remember what happened, I was just running around tackling, I wouldn't have a clue. But I'll never forget it."
Robinson's girlfriend has joined him in Penrith and he is in negotiations about extending his stay at the foot of the Blue Mountains.
The return of Luke Lewis and Tim Grant from New South Wales duty means Robinson may be surplus to requirements against Gold Coast tomorrow.
He has been 18th man "about eight or nine" times.
But, with the likes of veteran Clint Newton providing valuable counsel, Robinson knows his only option is to keep his head down and bum up.
"It's certainly hard at times. Throughout most of this year I haven't been sure whether I'm playing reserve grade or first grade. But it's all part of the experience and it's building my character so I don't really mind too much."
- Fairfax Media
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