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For rugby league superstars like Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, a 2012 NRL Grand Final appearance is just another few seconds tacked onto the end of a jam-packed highlights reel littered with Origin appearances and international caps.
For the lesser lights, though, Sunday’s NRL Grand Final is much more than that. For the unsung hero a premiership decider is the product of guts and determination; the reward for decades of toil; a no-doubt-about-it career highlight; and the realisation of boyhood dreams. Just ask Storm front-rower Bryan Norrie, a player who just a few years ago had been tossed atop the rugby league scrapheap.
“Growing up in a small country town in New South Wales, it was always the dream to win a premiership or play in a grand final and that dream’s coming true,” Norrie tells NRL.com.
“[Even when my career looked finished] I had the dream that one day I’d be able to play in a grand final. It’s great to be playing alongside some of the great players we have in this team and I can’t wait to be a part of it on the weekend and hopefully we can get a win.”
Norrie is the unlikely hero of a confidence-fuelled Storm team that have won their past seven matches including Finals Series thumpings of the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles. The in-form front-rower, who turns 29 in October, has stepped into the void left by injured prop Jason Ryles, slotting into the Storm’s starting pack for the playoffs. But, had Norrie listened to the critics and lost his steely determination, it would’ve been a lot different for the former Dragon, Panther and Shark. Discarded by Cronulla, Norrie almost gave up on his footballing dream, accepting an offer to captain-coach the Wagga Kangaroos. That is, until Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy came knocking.
“There was still fire in the belly and I was pretty disappointed because I thought my NRL career was over,” Norrie reveals.
“My manager mentioned he was communicating with the Storm but it took a lot longer [than I expected] and I took up an opportunity to move to Wagga with the Kangaroos even though I still had the fire in the belly to have another crack at the NRL…
“I went out there (to Wagga) for a week and hadn’t moved there properly then the opportunity came to move to Melbourne. I wanted to make sure [the Wagga Kangaroos] were okay with it because I’d agreed to play with them… but they understood.
“The opportunity came up here when Cronulla didn’t really work out and I’ve loved it here in Melbourne ever since. It’s a great city and there are great people here and I’ve loved every minute of it here since I moved. Pretty much everyone here’s relocated for footy so it gives us all a great culture with all the families moving here for the one reason. Everyone gets along and it’s a really tight-knit group.”
Norrie puts his previous inability to find a long-term home – he’s played two seasons at the Dragons, Panthers and Sharks – down to a lack of confidence. Now in his third season at Melbourne, and with a one-year extension for 2013 signed recently, he credits his coach with his career turnaround.
“I’d have to put a lot of that down to Craig Bellamy. He’s given me an opportunity,” Norrie reveals.
“I’ve also been able to overcome the injuries I had and get my body right, but [Bellamy] has got my confidence up – he gets your confidence back as a player and if he sees you working hard he gives you the opportunity.”
Norrie’s lack of confidence early in his career was no doubt exacerbated by his inability to score tries. In fact, it took the qualified electrician four clubs and more than six seasons to finally get his name on the scorer’s sheet.
“It took a while – I think it was a bit past 60 games to get my first try,” Norrie recalls of his try-scoring drought.
“It was good to get the monkey off the back. It was quite frustrating not getting over the white line and for a front-rower it was very exciting because we don’t get many!”
Norrie has now scored six tries in his 129-game NRL career, but his focus is on the biggest match of his career, now just hours away. Norrie hopes he can rise to the occasion – and the challenge which the Bulldogs’ behemoth forward pack presents.
“They’ve got a great forward pack… they’ve got great forwards and great skill and they’re big boys,” Norrie says.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us and our pack has got a lot of work to do. They’re a great side and we’re looking forward to the challenge… they finished minor premiers for a reason.
“[The grand final] is an opportunity that probably won’t come again. That’s being realistic. I want to enjoy the week and make sure I really seize the moment and enjoy the week. It’d be a dream come true to win the grand final.”
Particularly for a guy like Bryan Norrie.