Spina's last shot reaps rewards
Although he outgrew his old man a long time ago, Ben Spina's entire rugby league career has been inextricably linked to his father Laurie and the lasting legacy he left on North Queensland rugby league.
A soccer player until his teens, Ben only started playing rugby league after the advent of the Laurie Spina Shield junior carnival in 1997 and – 7,056 days after watching his father lead the first Cowboys team onto the park in 1995 – the pair created history when Ben made his NRL debut last season, becoming the first father-son duo to represent the club in first grade.
NRL.com's interview with Ben even took place in the Laurie Spina Meeting Room at Cowboys HQ, something neither of us was aware of until we had finished our chat.
Now 26 years of age, Spina is a full-time member of the Cowboys for the first time in his career and will get a further chance to impress coach Paul Green in Saturday night's trial against the Broncos in Mackay.
Spend even a few minutes with Laurie Spina – who is the sideline commentator for ABC Radio for all Cowboys home games – and the pride he has for Ben is virtually bursting out of him.
Reaching the NRL last season seemed unlikely even 12 months prior and while these men of tough farming stock rarely let their emotions bubble to the surface, Ben conceded that his debut – albeit a brief one in Round 17 against the Dragons in Sydney – was a special moment for the pair.
"We don't really talk about that too much but I did see on that day he was pretty emotional about it," Spina told NRL.com. "It was more about playing for North Queensland and for your local area, that's what means the most to us.
"We've reflected on that a little bit but to put myself under that pressure, the father and son, I've played that one game and you can't heap that pressure on yourself that you've got to play so many games now."
Spina's memory of his father's exploits for the Cowboys 20 years ago is confined mainly to a solo try against the Broncos in Round 5 when the locals gave the competition glamour club a serious run for their money.
But two decades later Ben is trying to forge his own rugby league career, a career that has taken significant strides in the past 12 months.
A tough as nails back-rower – Ben played for the Northern Pride just weeks after almost cutting his finger off – Spina was a key figure in the Pride's charge to not only the Intrust Super Cup title but the NRL State Championship crown also.
He'd been on the fringes of NRL attention for a number of years but it wasn't until he delivered himself a stern ultimatum that his full potential was brought to the surface.
"I'd come to a bit of a point where I thought I might not go to the next level and I just made a thing to myself where I just wanted to play a year where I was playing how I really wanted to," Spina said of his approach to 2014.
"It didn't matter what level it was and I guess there were little barriers that I didn't break before that, comfort zone stuff, and not allowing myself to try things without that pressure.
"Last year I wanted to go all out and make sure I played to my full potential rather than worrying about making mistakes and when you do that sometimes you allow yourself to break boundaries."
Pride coach Jason Demetriou – now an assistant coach at the Cowboys – helped Spina to not only be at his best, but also add new aspects to his game that had never previously existed.
Having been the Pride's player of the year in both 2012 and 2013, it was with Demetriou's encouragement that Spina finally reached a standard worthy of an NRL call-up.
"There was a point there where I didn't know whether I wanted to push through and keep playing past the year and I said to [Demetriou] that I just wanted to make sure I was playing as well as I could," he said.
"He helped to bring out little things that before I probably wouldn't have tried but he helped me see that I could do a few things on the field that I didn't use to.
"I did stress out about how I was going to go (in his NRL debut) but it goes so quick and I only played a few minutes but to run out there was enough to feel the buzz."
A buzz he is eager to feel again in 2015.