Young Bulldogs prop Herman Ese'ese overcame a serious case of butterflies to achieve a "dream come true" of representing his club in the NRL last Friday night, just 24 hours after receiving confirmation of his impending debut.
The damaging 20-year-old prop got his chance as a result of injuries and suspension ruling out four of the club's first-choice props.
Ese'ese aims to do what he can to stake a claim for a regular first grade spot but with the big names due to start rolling back this weekend the promising former Bulldogs NYC star faces a stiff ask.
Speaking to NRL.com after helping his side over the line in a 28-16 win against Manly, Ese'ese – one of two debutants on the night along with fellow 20-year-old Bulldogs NYC graduate Danny Fualolo – confessed to plenty of nerves in the lead-up.
"The week leading up to the game, there were definitely butterflies in the stomach, I was nervous, but I'm lucky enough to get the support from the boys which made the game much easier," he said.
Up until the night before the game, coach Des Hasler had kept him in the dark about whether or not he would be stepping up for a first grade debut.
"Dessie's a tough man you know, he keeps dropping hints, he didn't really tell me - I think it was the night before he called me and said 'good luck on your debut tomorrow'."
But the experienced Canterbury clipboard holder had been a huge influence on his game.
"As a player, I just do what Dessie wants me to do, run hard, tackle hard. When I ran on for the last 15 minutes [I knew my job]. Those forwards were blowing out there and I was fresh legs so I wanted to bring the impact the boys needed.
"It was good to come away with a win. If I keep playing hard consistent footy hopefully I get a spot next weekend."
The hulking youngster did his changes no harm with an explosive cameo late in the game as the Bulldogs shut down hopes of a Manly comeback, entering the field at 20-12 with 17 minutes left on the clock.
He made 44 metres from four powerful charges with two tackle breaks – one of those streamrolling over the top of Manly centre Brayden Wiliame – and also made eight tackles with no misses.
Ese'ese, tied to the club until the end of 2016, hopes to stay a Bulldog for many more years to come.
"It's my third year here now, I played two years in the Holden Cup and first time full time this year and it's going well so far," he said.
Originally from New Zealand, Ese'ese moved across the Tasman in 2011 after the Bulldogs spotted him playing at a schoolboys carnival. Since his arrival, his senior teammates have shown plenty of support and leadership in his development.
"They've been very supportive, very family-orientated, we're like brothers," he said.
"It's been the best years of my life. Hopefully I get to extend my contract and stay at this great club.
"All the forward pack [have helped me], the likes of Tols [Aiden Tolman], Antonio Kaufusi, Frank Pritchard, they've all been supportive. Especially me coming up through the ranks, they've been my mentors and I can't thank them enough. They've just told me to play my game, run hard, tackle hard and bring a lot of energy."