The incredible evolution of Corey Parker
"I absolutely hated him. And you can write that."
It's hardly the ringing endorsement you would hope from someone you consider a close friend on the eve of equalling the record for most NRL games played by a forward, but if anything can sum up Broncos captain Corey Parker it is contradiction.
An 18-year-old with a shaved head who fought his way into the most intimidating forward pack in the competition with more confidence than his pure physical dimensions deserved, Parker is now on the verge of history as the most enduring forward our game has known.
When he leads the team out against the Knights at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night for his 330th NRL game Parker will equal the record set by Nathan Hindmarsh for most games played purely in the forwards and have only five names in front of him on the all-time list.
When he came into first grade at the age of 18 in 2001 he picked out the biggest and meanest senior Broncos forwards at training and let them know that he wouldn't be pushed around.
He butted heads with the likes of Andrew Gee, Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke, knowing that to stand alongside them he first had to stand up to them.
He has since carried that brutal old school initiation forward and applied it to youngsters who – like he had a decade earlier – strutted around Red Hill like they owned the joint.
Jharal Yow Yeh hadn't even made it to first grade before Parker started picking on him.
Enjoying a quiet beer at the Jubilee Hotel in Brisbane with under-20s teammates Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough, Yow Yeh was taken aback when Parker walked in with the rest of the senior squad after their annual XXXX day and promptly told the trio to move on in no uncertain terms, that this was a place reserved for the "big boys".
"I remember that because it was me but he wouldn't remember because he didn't care who it was," Yow Yeh tells NRL.com.
"Joel Moon was the only bloke who stood up for us but that's just the way 'Cozza' was. He obviously knew we were doing pre-season with them later that year so he was planting the seed pretty early.
"That was the day I started to hate him. I always loved him because he was a big part of the Broncos but from that day on I was like, 'I don't like this bloke'.
"But that was just the way he was brought up in the club. You had to earn your stripes but I was brought up in a way that if people step all over you you never take a step backwards. Me and Cozza butted heads a lot when I was younger because I never wanted to take a step back from him.
"The weird thing is now is that he's nothing like that. I class him as one of my best mates at the club, that's how much he has changed.
"He helped me a lot through everything that I've been through and that really shows what type of a person he is and that's exactly why he's captain. He's an absolute legend."
Watching from afar as the forwards instigated their own form of tough love, former Broncos five-eighth Ben Ikin says that in an era of giants Parker's physical deficiencies were obvious to all but that he made up for it with self belief.
"Early on I didn't know whether he had the talent to compensate for his lack of size because that was a time in the game where everyone was getting bigger," Ikin said.
"We were playing with blokes like Brad Thorn, Shane Webcke, Petero Civoniceva, Gorden Tallis, Dane Carlaw, Brad Meyers, I always thought Parky was going to have to be really good to make it.
"The senior blokes tried to pull him into line. They were all surprised by how confident he was so early on.
"I don't think there would be many guys who were there at the start of Corey's career that wouldn't be surprised at what a champion he's become."
Petero Civoniceva had only established himself as a key pillar of the Broncos forward pack in the year or so prior to Parker's arrival and he said it was his refusal to be intimidated by the superstars in the squad that would hold him in such good stead.
"I remember him as a young bull trying to assert himself and trying to get himself into the group," Civoniceva recalled.
"When any young fella comes in you've got to try and make your presence felt and Corey certainly used to do that.
"That was one of his traits; he wasn't someone to hold back. He always got himself in there and amongst it and that's why he's always had that strong presence at the club."
As Ikin describes, the evolution has not only taken place off the field in the way he conducts himself around the club but on the field to the point where you couldn't imagine a Queensland or Kangaroos team without the 33-year-old's presence.
"His game has continued to evolve to the point where he is by far and away a better player in his last five years than he was in his first five, and he was pretty handy in his first five years," Ikin said.
"He is smart, and he's got a very professional approach to his footy.
"While that self belief has under-pinned him he's always attempted to live up to his own standards. In his mind he thinks of himself as a very good player but that means that every year he doesn't rest on his laurels. He wants to live to his own inner reputation."
It's a reputation that has been earned the old fashioned way and with no signs of slowing down could very well conclude with the mantle as the most enduring player in premiership history.