Gray shocked by City call-up
An incident involving prescription medication in September 2015 could have cost Aaron Gray his contract at the South Sydney Rabbitohs, or much worse, his life.
It's a night the 22-year-old looks back at as the moment that transformed him as a rugby league player.
"Once everything happened there I just drew a line in the sand and it was either going to make me or break me, and so far I'm heading in the right direction to where I want to be," Gray told NRL.com.
That resolve has been evident in 2016 with the winger scoring five tries and making seven line breaks for South Sydney through the opening nine rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership; his form good enough to earn a spot in the City Origin side for this weekend's clash in Tamworth.
"It was pretty unexpected. I was just lying in bed last night and got the call off Madge (South Sydney coach Michael Maguire) so I'm pretty excited and I can't wait to get out there with the boys," a pleasantly surprised Gray told NRL.com on Monday morning.
"No one really said too much and I was just in bed watching a few movies so I was pretty surprised by that.
"I was actually with my girlfriend in bed so she was really pumped for me. Then I told dad and mum who were downstairs. Dad is pretty excited for me to get out there and so is mum."
Sunday's game in Tamworth will be the first time the South Sydney winger has donned a rep jersey since playing for NSW in the under-20s State of Origin game in 2014.
Gray – who was evidently excited – quashed any suggestions the annual fixture meant little to City players, saying his selection was one of the proudest moments of his career and would give him "plenty of confidence" for the rest of 2016.
"This is my first rep jersey in first grade. I played for the 20s Origin a couple of years ago but this is my first rep jersey in seniors," the Rabbitoh said.
"Anyone that gets handed a rep jersey at any level is going to take it with both hands. Some people will say it doesn't mean much to anyone, but to the boys who are here today, I'm sure it means plenty to them."
Central to instilling that pride in the jersey is City coach Brad Fittler.
"I've known Freddy for a little while and I'm looking forward to spending a week with him and seeing what he has in store for us training wise. I think I should learn heaps off him while I'm here," Gray continued.
"It'll be good to get to know a few of the boys at the start of the week and then we can get stuck into a bit of training closer to game day.
"I know a few of the boys here which is good because it's always daunting coming into a camp and not knowing anyone. Having a few mates around will really help settle the nerves."
Gray said it was great to have experienced heads like Chris Lawrence and Tom Symonds in the squad, but was clearly excited at the prospect of playing alongside some of the younger brigade set to shine on Sunday afternoon.
"Even though we've got a young side, I think some of the guys like Siro (Curtis Sironen) and Carty (Bryce Cartwright) can really pump me up," he said.
"They're really exciting players who can do just about anything so I think the rest of the team will feed off that energy."