Auckland Nines sensation Kyle Feldt is ready to make the Cowboys' right wing position his own in 2014. Copyright: Shane Wenzlick/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
There was a time, not all that long ago, when if Ricky Stuart's Raiders were coming to Townsville, you'd be more likely to see a young footy fan from Bushland Beach wearing lime green than the navy blue, yellow, grey and white of the home side.
Signed up to play with local club Norths at just six years of age, Kyle Feldt would marvel at the guile of Stuart, the speed of Laurie Daley and the brute force of Mal Meninga and wonder whether one day he would share that same field of dreams as his idols.
That day came on August 3, 2013 when Feldt made his NRL debut for North Queensland but only this time there were different heroes leaving him starry eyed and lost for words.
"I just remember thinking it was real surreal," Feldt remembers of his debut against South Sydney last year, a game that sparked the Cowboys' six-game winning streak.
"Looking across the room and seeing Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, it was like, Holy, I just played footy with them.
"You train with them every day but it doesn't really hit home until you're sitting in the sheds with the jersey on still and looking across the room."
Feldt represents the new wave of North Queensland juniors who are beginning to make their presence felt in the Cowboys' senior side. While co-captain Matthew Scott is the epitome of local boys done good, the likes of Feldt, Joel Riethmuller, Ray Thompson, Michael Morgan and Zac Santo have all been inspired by the early generation of Cowboys stars in their very own backyard.
For Feldt, it was one player in particular who turned him from a Raider to a Cowboy.
"I was more a Raiders fan, with Ricky Stuart and Mal Meninga, I just always liked them," Feldt says.
"The Cowboys were always there and then when Matty Bowen came on the scene everyone jumped on the Cowboys. He just lit it up; it was good watching Matty run around.
"It's a lot different [without Bowen at the club]. Matty was a trickster, he was a real jokester. He'd always play tricks on everyone, steal stuff out of lockers and put it in other lockers so it feels a bit different. He taught me a lot."
For the 2011 under-20s leading point-scorer and Junior Kangaroos representative, Feldt's call-up to the top grade was in the modern world of instant gratification a long time coming. He had a further season in the under-20s in 2012 and with quality wingers in Ashley Graham and Antonio Winterstein patrolling either side of 1300SMILES Stadium, he was forced to bide his time playing for the Northern Pride in the Intrust Super Cup for much of 2013.
When he finally got his chance in Round 21 he responded by laying on a try for Brent Tate, scored against the Panthers a week later and then grabbed a double against the Titans before an ankle injury at training ended his season and sent him to the surgeon's table.
The most capped player in under-20s history, Wayne Ulugia, then scored six tries in just four games in Feldt's absence and although Ulugia is no longer at the Cowboys, the emergence of Zac Santo and Curtis Rona at the Auckland Nines keeps the pressure on Feldt to retain his spot.
"It's good to see that the young boys from here are stepping up and that we're performing too. It just goes to show that our 20s system is working and the coaching staff are really doing their job," said Feldt, who was named breakout player of the tournament in Auckland.
"There's three of us there now; there's Curtis Rona, he's jumped into the picture now. He's had a pretty good pre-season so it's going to be a pretty big battle, I've got to try and play hard and train hard.
"Coming back from the injury, I didn't really look after myself that well so I came back a bit heavier than I was meant to so it's been a bit more of a struggle really."
With a contract that expires at the end of the 2014 season and a wedding to plan for with fiancee Jessica, there are two very good reasons to build on the bright start to his career with a good showing against Ricky's Raiders.
"Not for a couple of years, get some more money up," the 22-year-old said of any impending nuptials.
"This is the last year [of my contract] so hopefully I can have another good season and get an extension here."