Tigers prodigal son finally gets his shot
Less than 12 months after helping lead the Wests Tigers to a Holden Cup premiership, Brenden Santi realised he was behind a long line of veterans at Concord.
They had just signed Braith Anasta and Blake Austin to combine with Adam Blair, Curtis Sironen and Bodene Thompson in a fairly solid-looking back row.
"[So] I did what most young kids would do and left for an opportunity. I wasn't filthy, because they had a lot of quality first graders in front of me," he said.
And off he went in search of greener pastures in Parramatta. That was in November, 2013.
By May the following year, Santi was done with the Eels. It took him just six months to realise there was nothing green about Sydney's greater west after all. Not after the man who had signed him had deserted him, and the replacement told him it would be a long time until he saw any shade of green while he was in charge.
"I got bought by Ricky Stuart, [but] Brad Arthur had other plans at Parramatta," Santi recalled. "And I don't think I was in them."
By August, after returning home with his tail between his legs, he made a surprise NRL debut in a Round 25 clash against the Raiders, coming off the bench for some garbage time minutes in a failed season for the club.
It continued a rollercoaster 12 months that even he thought wouldn't have arched back as fast as it did.
"To be honest, I didn't predict it last year. But it was the best feeling really, getting a Round 1 spot with a fully fit team," he said.
"I was always going to plug along. I was always going to keep fighting for that first grade jersey. I don't think I ever thought my chances were gone."
But alas, then came what looked to be another trough.
The dramatic departure of then-coach Mick Potter once again put Santi's promising career on pause, forcing him to impress a new coach in Jason Taylor. And this time he did, enough so to be selected ahead of a crop of second-rowers including Lamar Liolevave and Salesi Funaki.
And so there he was against the Titans last Sunday, lining up alongside Kyle Lovett and Jesse Sue – two more graduates from that grand-final winning under 20s squad.
And should winger David Nofoaluma and Sitaleki Akauola also force their way back into the line-up, that'll be five players from that team that kick-started an avalanche of Tigers youngsters taking the NRL by storm.
It might've taken him a while, but Santi has finally found the greener pastures he had been searching for.
"So I left for opportunity, and came back for an even better opportunity. It was definitely a no-brainer. I never really wanted to leave," he said. "The Tigers always felt like home so to come back home was perfect."