Grand Final heroes from out of nowhere
If you think Shaun Nona and Davin Crampton playing on NRL Grand Final day is an unlikely possibility, consider this: The entire populations of their two home towns could fit into ANZ Stadium, with space left for 80,000 Rabbitohs and Bulldogs fans.
If they needed to get everyone tickets, they would all fit into a corner of the 83,000 capacity venue and the noise that would come from that corner of the stadium would be deafening.
Melbourne-bound Nona received the Duncan Hall Medal as man of the match in last Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final while Crampton has also attracted interest from NRL clubs such as South Sydney and the Titans.
They will turn out for one last time in 2014 for the Northern Pride in the NRL State Championship Final against the Penrith Panthers and will do so with the support of not only their home towns but the entire state of Queensland.
If either one day gets to play in the NRL it will mark a remarkable rise and show just how far reaching the game of rugby league can be.
Having grown up in the tiny town of Normanton – population 1,100 – off the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria coastline six hours from the Northern Territory border, Crampton proudly wrote 'Normanton' on the strapping on his right wrist prior to last Sunday's 36-4 win over Easts Tigers.
It was a reminder of humble beginnings and where he first learned to play rugby league having attended an AFL-dominated high school in Cairns more than nine hours to the east.
"Through school I didn't play footy, I was an AFL lad," 25-year-old Crampton told NRL.com. "I was playing AFL and when I graduated after Year 12, when I went back to Normanton they only had rugby league so I tried that out. I went to school in Cairns and it was only AFL but then when I went back home, that was it, just switched over to rugby league.
"The family support back in the home town in Normanton, just the support I get from them is unreal. Can't thank them enough.
"I'd love to have a crack [in the NRL] but I've just got to focus on my role and what I can do for the team and hopefully a chance comes up."
It's a similar tale for Nona who grew up in Tully – population approximately 2,500 – 140 kilometres south of Cairns and had to wait until late into his teens before catching the eye of rugby league talent scouts.
"Probably first year of under-18s, we actually won our premiership in the local league up there in Cairns," Nona says of his progression in the game. "I was lucky enough to win a few premierships in Cairns with the local clubs and got picked up by the Pride and just taking it day by day I guess.
"I wasn't really the biggest or fastest kid in league growing up. I played a lot of touch football where I had to get some agility under my belt because I was very small and skinny. It wasn't until I was about 18 or 19 that I started filling out; I guess I'd have to say I'm a late bloomer."
Nona's man-of-the-match performance and six-from-six goal-kicking display was the perfect way to complete his time at the Pride before joining the Storm on a two-year deal.
Having turned 24 just last week, Nona's elevation to full-time NRL status is another indicator of the strength of the Intrust Super Cup as a developmental pathway and he admits training alongside Cameron Smith and Billy Slater in Melbourne is a far cry from his early days.
"Footy started back in Tully for me, small home town and playing in the backyard with my uncles and cousins and every day after school was down at the showgrounds kicking the football around with my cousins so that's where football started for me.
"I'm nervous and excited [about the move to Melbourne] at the same time but I'm looking forward to the next challenge in life now and moving forward.
"I'm there for the next two seasons, full-time, living in Melbourne and if I'm not playing down there I guess I'll be flying back up here. I might have to chuck on the black and gold!" Nona added, the irony of linking with the Storm's feeder club and last Sunday's grand final opponents, Easts Tigers, not lost on the talented five-eighth.
A Queensland Residents representative in the centres earlier in the season, Crampton has split his time between the outside backs and the middle third of the field in 2014, a decision that took some convincing from coach Jason Demetriou.
"Big credit to 'JD', he turned my game around. I originally came to Pride just as a centre and JD had a crazy idea to chuck me in the middle to see how that would go and it worked out real good actually," Crampton said.
"I'd never played in the middle before and when JD mentioned it to me, I thought he was geeing me up.
"When JD told me about it I was umming and aahing about it but I've just got to know my role in the team and try to do it to the best of my ability."
Ability that the vast majority of rugby league fans will get to see for the first time on Sunday.