Mansour set to realise childhood dream
Thrilled to make his first NSW Blues squad, Josh Mansour has revealed the crippling toll injuries took on his body and mind in what was the toughest 12-month stretch of his professional career.
Mansour missed the start of last season after undergoing ankle and shoulder surgeries following the 2014 Four Nations, and received a major setback when he severely tore his medial cruciate ligament against the Titans in Round 7.
"It's been a long journey. It's taken me a while to get here. I've been learning every year, I've been getting better as a player every year and I think maturity comes into play a lot," Mansour said.
"At the beginning of last year after the Four Nations I had a roller-coaster of injuries. [I had] two major surgeries which was a setback for myself.
"It was a learning curve as well; I'd never went under the knife before so I didn't know how to take it properly. It took a while to get my stride in my step again.
"It was pretty tough. Being stuck in rehab and watching all the boys ripping into pre-season – especially getting flogged out there – you want to be a part of that. You don't want to see your mates copping all that flogging while you're stuck in a gym. That kind of took its toll."
Despite the setbacks, the Panthers winger never gave up hope of one day representing the Blues.
Hearing his name mentioned in the weeks leading into Monday morning's squad announcement piqued his confidence, but he knew he couldn't rest on his laurels.
"It crossed my mind a few times what it would be like to be a part of this journey, but in saying that I didn't want to get too ahead of myself," he said.
"I didn't want my hopes to be too high and then crushed down. I just kept focussing on my footy and I knew it would sort itself out if I kept playing well for Penrith."
The 25-year old scored a try on debut for the Panthers, City Origin and the Lebanese national side and would love to add NSW to that list on Wednesday night.
"I think it's the pinnacle of rugby league. It's the biggest stage in the game and to be a part of this environment is just massive and I'm extremely grateful for it," the Blues debutant said.
"Being a kid my dream was to make my NRL debut. As soon as that happened you set yourself goals: playing Origin, playing City, playing for your country. I'm very grateful to be able to tick those boxes as a player.
"It's obviously a massive achievement to be here. I'm definitely not going to take this camp for granted. I want to be here for the long ride, not just a couple of games."
Running out onto ANZ Stadium will be a far cry from his former State of Origin routine.
"I come from a very passionate rugby league family," the powerhouse winger said.
"Normally we'd be having a barbeque and watching it with all of my cousins and uncles and aunties. Everyone would be glued to the TV, everyone is just getting right into it and I can only imagine what they're going to be doing when I'm running out there.
"They've been congratulating me and I haven't even made the side yet."
Mansour won't just be doing his family proud when he makes his debut.
Wednesday night's series opener will be the first time two players with Lebanese heritage will represent the Blues with Robbie Farah set to take the field alongside Mansour.
The Blues winger said "it'll mean a lot" to the Lebanese community and that it showed the growing influence Middle Eastern players were having on the game.
"I think as the years go on we're seeing more Lebanese boys crack the NRL and playing higher levels," he said.
"I think it'll be the first time seeing two Lebanese players playing for the NSW Blues alongside each other. It's going to be a good experience and I'm sure we'll make all of them proud."
While he'd love to bring his culture into camp, Mansour conceded he might have to leave the cuisine at home.
"I think Lebanese food is a bit too filling. I don't want to put on a couple of kilos before the game. I'll leave that to Robbie."