Twelve months ago as he grieved the sudden passing of his brother, Cameron Cullen considered throwing in the towel. Now the 23-year-old stands on the precipice of an Intrust Super Cup grand final with Burleigh and a two-year NRL deal with the Sea Eagles.
When Justin Cullen tragically passed last July while on a surfing holiday overseas younger brother Cameron laced the boots on to play for Mackay against Tweed Heads a week later but his mental state meant that it was the last game he would play in 2015.
A former Broncos under-20s half and Australian Schoolboys representative, he returned home to the Gold Coast to be around friends and family with next to no consideration for football.
He signed to play with the Burleigh Bears but when Titans half Kane Elgey ruptured his ACL on the first day of training in 2016 Cullen was handed a 'train and trial' contract that he parlayed into a one-year deal and five – long-awaited – games in the NRL.
The livewire No.7 showed enough in those performances to attract the attention of other NRL clubs with Manly's offer of a two-year deal trumping that which was offered by the Titans.
Cullen earned his starts in the top grade with the Titans when injuries hit either Ashley Taylor or Tyrone Roberts and he said the lure of a regular position in Manly's 17 was a big reason behind his move to Sydney.
"I'm definitely excited," Cullen told NRL.com.
"I know it's going to be a challenge purely being away from family and friends and I've never taken on Sydney, never lived in Sydney before but I'm definitely excited to be at a new club with fresh faces and a fresh opportunity.
"I played that back-up role to Ash and Tyrone this year and it was time for me to get down to a new club and push for an opportunity down there.
"I was so grateful to get the opportunity to play first grade this year and I just know that there's more opportunity down there to play first grade at Manly so definitely excited to get down into that squad and really push for a jersey in the 17."
Admitting that his headspace wasn't where it needed to be when he first began training with Burleigh, Cullen conceded that Elgey's misfortune allowed him to move beyond the grief he was experiencing and throw himself into his footy.
"It's been a crazy 12 months. When I look back on it it's ridiculous," said Cullen, who will line up at halfback for Burleigh against Redcliffe in Sunday's Intrust Super Cup Grand Final.
"The first couple of training sessions I did with Burleigh I was just thinking, 'What am I doing here?' I was in a pretty bad headspace for a while and the way that everything worked…
"Elgey did his ACL and I got a bit of an opportunity to be full-time and it made me more narrow-minded. When you're going through something like that, an opportunity like that to have something to focus all your energy on and not think about everything else was probably a really good thing for me at the time.
"I was able to rip into that and take it with both hands and get the contract and play five games of first grade.
"Now we're in the grand final for Burleigh, it's crazy. To be in the grand final after the year I've had is unbelievable and I'm so grateful for everything."
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