Rocky road to NRL 'Myles-stone'
Not even a schoolboy send-off for a headbutt after just 10 minutes could dissuade Mark Hughes that Nate Myles was a young man that the Bulldogs wanted to have in their system.
The recruitment guru responsible for delivering Johnathan Thurston, Sonny Bill Williams and Issac Luke to the Bulldogs was in Cairns merely to rubber stamp the signing of Myles in 2001 after the high recommendation that came from his high school coach and 11-time Kangaroo Lionel Williamson.
Ten years after making his debut, Myles will play his 200th NRL game on Sunday when he leads the Titans out at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford against another of his former clubs, the Roosters.
Having just turned 30 during the week, Myles admits it has been something of a slow process to reach the significant milestone but after the initial impression he left on Hughes he may have been fortunate to even play a single game.
Hughes had that much faith in Williamson's word that he was merely running an eye over the tough kid from Cairns before putting pen to paper but only saw 10 minutes of him in action before the then 15-year-old earned the ire of the referee.
"He head-butted a kid in the opposite scrum in the first 10 minutes of the game and got sent off," Hughes told NRL.com. "I'd flown all the way to Cairns to watch him play and I said to Lionel, 'Is he allowed back on?'
"Lionel said that he was after he had reported to his coach, and after about 10 minutes he was allowed back on. That was my first look at him.
"I asked him why he did it and his answer was, 'He was annoying me.'"
Despite a questionable first impression Myles was invited by the Bulldogs to join their famous club in 2002 where he first came into contact with Thurston and Williams at the share house in Belmore.
Although Hughes had no doubt about their futures – "I thought something had to go horribly wrong for them not to play first grade" – Myles recalls being given a sobering reminder of what lay ahead of the NRL hopefuls.
"They sat us all down, there were eight of us in the house at York St, Belmore, at the time, and they said that only one of us would play first grade," said Myles.
"That was pretty frightening. Those were the stats then and at that dinner table was Johnathan Thurston and Sonny Bill, so I think we did all right out of that."
While the physical attributes of Sonny Bill Williams may have been obvious to many from a young age, Hughes is fond of reciting a quote from former US President Calvin Coolidge as to what separated his three star recruits from other talented schoolboys:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Myles himself admits that he gives away plenty in physical gifts to other players in the NRL but Hughes knew from the day he saw him that he had the traits to become a champion of the game.
"It is the intangibles that get people across the line," Hughes told NRL.com. "Kids who have great work ethic, they will be persistent and determined when the going gets tough. That's the same for all the champion players and he really has turned out to be a champion.
"He didn't have a great frame but he was a terrific trainer. It was quite contradictory. I can remember him coming down and [Bulldogs trainer] Billy Johnstone saying, 'I'll give you a decent body young fella.'
"From memory Nate had the highest skinfold of any 16-year-old we ever tested; I think he won one of the 'fat club' awards, which can be pretty deflating for a 16 or 17-year-old.
"But the thing that is special about Nate now – and I certainly didn't know this when I saw him at 15 – was the mental toughness. To do what he does in Origin, I don't know that there have been too many tougher players in recent times."
His career has not been without its pitfalls – the only Origin match he has missed in 10 years was as a result of suspension for the ill-fated incident in a Central Coast hotel. But as he celebrates his 'Myles-stone' on Sunday, the veteran of 28 Origins and nine Tests says he has learned the value of harsh lessons.
"I'm a slow learner so it probably took me eight years to pull my finger out in regards to getting things a bit more professional," he said.
"I was always find, even with the young guys now, if you don't learn from your mistakes it's just a waste.
"You're never going to know everything and all occasions are going to bring different outcomes but as long as you're taking a positive out of everything and a mistake's a learning curve you just keep moving forward."