Uni star inspired by NRL graduates
Their paths have taken vastly different courses over the past few years but Australian Universities half Taylor Bennett remains determined to join former junior teammates such as Valentine Holmes, Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses in the NRL.
Bennett scored Australia's final try and kicked the field goal that ultimately proved the difference in Thursday's 23-22 Test win over New Zealand Universities in Christchurch with the two-Test series to wrap up in Greymouth on Sunday.
Bennett and Mitch Wilson will once again pair up in the halves for the Australian team who are struggling to field 17 fit players following Travis Drury's head knock in the first Test that required 35 stitches around his mouth.
Like many members of the Universities team, Bennett was a highly touted junior prospect who played representative football with the Wests Tigers and Dragons before joining Cronulla's under-20s squad.
But a fractured wrist in a pre-season trial in which he starred against the Knights robbed Bennett of valuable opportunities and this year the 21-year-old found himself playing for Asquith in the Sydney Shield competition, three rungs below the NRL.
"It is disheartening going from the facilities that they have and the training that they provide for you," Bennett said of the fall from an association with an NRL club.
"I was sitting up around 80-plus kilos with the Sharks and once I left there I went into a downward spiral with my health because of injuries and I lost 11 kilos and from then it's been a struggle to get back to that playing weight.
"Then going down to the standard of football that Sydney Shield offers, it's a bit hard to further develop your skills playing in teams that struggle in that comp."
Yet the Bachelor of Health and Movement student at ACPE refuses to give up on his dream of one day playing in the NRL and says that the success of former teammates is a source of motivation.
"Footy is something I'll always chase. It's just an absolute dream of mine to make it," he said.
"I've played with plenty of boys that have gone on to play first grade and played against plenty of boys who have gone on to make waves in first grade like Dylan Walker.
"I've played with guys like Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses and to see once you were as good as them and they're now playing first grade is just always that bit of motivation and proof that with more development and the right coaching you can always get there."
Currently looking for an opportunity to join a Ron Massey Cup team for the 2016 season, Bennett is all too aware that a repeat of the team's goal-line defence from Thursday and a Test series win representing Australia would be a nice addition to the resume.
"It wasn't really that field goal that won us the game, it was definitely our goal-line defence," Bennett told NRL.com.
"I've never been in a football team with that amazing goal-line defence and I don't think anyone who watched that game has ever seen anything like it. That is what won us the game, not the field goal.
"To be able to say you won a Test series for your country later in life would be awesome.
"It's something that a lot of people dream about and not a lot of people ever get to do so we're going to grab this opportunity with both hands this Sunday.
"I've had an awesome experience here playing against former first grade internationals so with a good off-season there's no reason why I can't make a push for [an NRL contract] in the next year or so."