After a disrupted start to life as a Rabbitoh, Chris McQueen's growing leadership has helped to earn a two-year contract extension. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos
It wasn't until the entire South Sydney squad assembled at the start of 2014 that the realisation hit Chris McQueen.
Roy Asotasi had left the NRL to play in England; Michael Crocker had retired as had Matt King while Jeff Lima, after a one-year stint at Redfern, had returned to the English Super League.
As he looked around the Redfern training base he noticed the youthful exuberance of Dylan Walker, Alex Johnston, Luke Keary, Kyle Turner and the Burgess twins and realised that as one of longest-serving members of the squad, it was time to become a leader.
Like the captain elect at present, Greg Inglis, McQueen is not a boisterous motivator of men but having just penned an upgraded two-year extension on his contract said he has become aware of the influence he has on the next wave of Rabbitoh first-graders.
"I think there are only four or five players who have been at the club longer than I have and I think that's when it sunk in that I'm one of the senior guys now," McQueen told NRL.com following his return from an ankle injury last weekend.
"Then obviously having that Origin experience and talking to the coaching staff and a lot of people around the club, just getting that understanding that the young players look up to players like me and having that sink in and realising that I am a senior player.
"We've got some superstars coming through and knowing that those guys look up to me and the other senior boys, they're always watching what we do and they take a lot from that.
"I probably don't do a lot of talking around the club but I definitely try to let my actions do the talking for me. I guess realising that I am being watched and that the younger players do recognise and see what I do, that has helped me to develop as a leader."
The performances of Walker, Johnston and Kirisome Auva'a over the past two months and the successful return of Keary from a pectoral injury suffered in the Auckland Nines reinforced to McQueen that there is a bright few years ahead for the red and green.
Although there was speculation the five-time Origin representative was eyeing a more lucrative move to North Queensland he insists that his preference was to always stay at South Sydney, where he can keep a close eye on the latest batch of superstars in the making.
"It's crazy. I think my first first grade game was just after my 22nd birthday and I was a shy kid just hiding out on the wing," said McQueen, who scored on debut in Round 22, 2009 before missing the entire 2010 season with a knee injury.
"To see these guys making breaks and kicking the ball and burning players with their speed and footwork, just having the confidence to go out and do what they do is outstanding and definitely makes playing in this team a lot of fun.
"The two star players over the last couple of months have obviously been Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston. They're both lightning quick, they've both got footwork and they're starring for us every week and especially them being so young, having those two players play with confidence and play the way they are playing is a massive boost for the team.
"Having players that can get the ball 20 or 30 metres out – or even full-field – and if they get into space no one can catch them, it's definitely enjoyable to watch.
"I love this club and I never wanted to leave the club and I always knew that I wanted to stay here. We're seeing the calibre of the young guys coming through and that's obviously very exciting for me.
"I'm one of the older guys now, I've just turned 27, so seeing the 19 and 20-year-old boys coming through, I know we're going to have a strong club for a long time to come. That definitely makes [the decision to stay] easier."
The partnership of McQueen and Keary on South Sydney's left edge proved devastating in their first outing together in 2014 with Keary laying on a try assist for McQueen and later a line-break assist for McQueen to act as provider for Inglis.
Keary's speed combined with McQueen's line-running shapes as a wonderful new weapon for coach Michael Maguire to toy with in the month leading up the finals and McQueen said it has enabled them to build on what they worked on throughout the pre-season.
"'Sutts' (John Sutton) was going to be playing in the back row or lock this year and when Luke Keary got hurt it did change things around but I don't think it changed things too much in terms of style," said the 27-year-old.
"If anything it turned us back into what we were last year and I think everyone just fell back into the positions they were in last year and it was just business as usual.
"Keary is obviously playing better and better every week and having Sutty out gives him that opportunity to really solidify his position there and I think he's doing a great job.
"Give him a few more games to get his match fitness up – obviously he was out for a long time – so to get that confidence up he's just going to be another superstar in this team."