Getting knocked back by your local footy side is a bit like being shut out by your own family.
That’s certainly how it felt for Josh Mansour, a budding soccer talent who, just days after being cut by the Bulldogs SG Ball development squad in 2007, went back to his junior club Kingsgrove Colts hoping to revive his fledgling rugby league career in the St George A-grade competition.
Instead, what he got was a door slammed in his face.
“It was a kick in the guts,” Mansour describes. “I’m like, Did I make the right choice sticking to rugby league or should I have stuck to soccer?
“And then I told myself, This is it. This is the last chance because I’m right on the edge here. I’ve got to choose to play footy or go back to doing carpentry.”
This was a kid who had never made a rep team, and wasn’t even wanted by his junior club. As far as NRL dream-chasers go, this guy wasn’t anywhere near having a crack at the big time.
“And then someone told me there was an open trial for the North Sydney Bears in the Premier League [now the NSW Cup]. So I went there by myself and there were four games opposed. I ended up playing three games before the coach at the time, Wayne Lambkin, told me to sit out the fourth game.
“I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing but it ended up being OK as me and six other boys got picked up.”
But Mansour barely stepped foot on North Sydney Oval again that year. Instead, the Rabbitohs reared their head and found a kid that had perseverance written all over him.
“That was the first thing,” recalls then Rabbitohs Toyota Cup assistant coach Ben Gardiner, now the side’s head coach.
“And he had a fair bit of belief in himself as well. A lot of people probably told him he was too small. So he worked hard on putting on weight and worked hard on his general strength because he knew he wasn’t going to get any taller.
“And now that’s one of his key attributes. He’s so strong and he pushes people off and gets such a quick play-the-ball. We did a lot of work in 2010 with him on how to find his front when he’s running the ball so that he could start the set off quickly for the team. And you look at Penrith now, that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
The 2010 season was a crucial one for Mansour. He helped the Rabbitohs surge to the grand final and was selected in the Toyota Cup Team of the Year before travelling with the Junior Kangaroos to England.
Bigger things were expected to come the following season, but instead Mansour languished in the NSW Cup as then coach John Lang went with Shaune Corrigan, Fetuli Talanoa and James Roberts.
“I could’ve had a chance to make my debut with Souths, I was pretty confident,” says the 22-year-old Mansour.
“But towards the end of the year, I lost that confidence because I felt like I got brushed. I wasn’t really too happy about that.
“I played a couple of trials with Souths, but I lost my confidence. I thought they never believed in me, to be honest. They never gave me the opportunity.”
And that’s when the one-third Lebanese, Portugese and Cuban Mansour hit another crossroad in his career. November had arrived and Mansour had no one to play for.
“Souths offered me nothing and that was upsetting. I looked back and I got all these accolades, and I thought I at least could’ve got a pre-season contract or something, but they didn’t offer me anything at all,” he says.
“Only Penrith offered me a pre-season. I had no choice to take it because no other clubs were looking at me.
“I never had a one-on-one chat with Johnny Lang. I gave up work some days to have the opportunity to train with them, to be part of the team. But when I got to Penrith I did a couple of one-on-one chats with Ivan [Cleary, Panthers NRL coach]and I did some individual video work with him. He’s been great with me from the start. That was obviously a big boost for me.”
Cleary’s faith has thus far been handsomely rewarded. Mansour’s average of 164m per game is the most by any Panther on record and trails only Paul Gallen and Brett Morris as the best in the NRL. HIs 17 tackle-breaks against the Sea Eagles in Round 12 were the most by any winger in NRL history and his 204m the most by any Panthers winger in a single game.
It’s enough to make the family that encouraged him to never give up very proud.
“My cousins played but never reached a rep level so I’m pretty much the only one,” Mansour says. “They’ve been behind me since day one. All my cousins are all older than me so I was looking up to them when I was young, but now they’re all looking up to me. It’s a great feeling,” he said.