'Ratbag' Hampton a changed man
He was stolen by the Storm from directly under the eyes of Cowboys officials but Ben Hampton says he has returned to Townsville a different player and person and ready to contribute to the club's emerging legacy.
A self-confessed 'ratbag' growing up playing junior footy in Mareeba in Queensland's north, Hampton was playing in an under-15s carnival in Townsville when spotted by Storm scouts who shortly thereafter offered him a contract.
He first moved to Melbourne towards the end of 2009 at 17 years of age and after serving a seven-year apprenticeship under coach Craig Bellamy and around the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, Hampton believes he is a far more mature and professional footballer than the boy who left all those years ago.
"I was a little bit of a ratbag when I first left to be honest but you've got to grow up pretty quick when you move away that young," said Hampton, who spent his early years in the New South Wales Riverina town of Temora before moving with his family to Mareeba.
"Back then when I was 14, 15, 16 I just played footy because I loved playing footy with my mates. I never had in my mind that I had to get signed by someone or had to impress NRL clubs and stuff like that.
"The dream was always to play footy but I don't think I ever went out there to try and get signed by the Cowboys or anyone. It just happened that Melbourne saw something in me that they liked and they approached me and my family and that's how it happened.
"I always said that if things worked out that I would like to play for the Cowboys one day but in saying that I would have been really happy to stay in Melbourne as well.
"But this opportunity has come up and this new chapter has started now and I couldn't be happier with the decision that I've made."
A Queensland under-20s and Queensland Residents representative in the halves, Hampton's ability to play a range of different positions became a trump card for Bellamy in 2016.
When the Storm were ravaged by injuries to their outside backs Hampton slotted into the centres but for the most part was a Mr Fix-It playing between 15 and 35 minutes from the bench, a player Bellamy could call on in case of an emergency.
The 24-year-old has the ability to play fullback, centre, five-eighth, half, hooker and even lock and in the modern era of reduced interchanges has now accepted that he can play a valuable role without necessarily starting each week.
"It took me a while to get used to it when I started playing that role in Melbourne," Hampton admitted to NRL.com.
"I sort of picked it up a lot more towards the back-end of the season and now I actually really like the role to be honest.
"I like playing in the halves and I liked the handful of games I played at fullback as well but my first season in this role was probably my most successful season so far and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully I can continue to play a similar role up here."
Cowboys coach Paul Green has already spoken highly of the professional approach Hampton has displayed in the opening two weeks of pre-season training, a period of time that is crucial for someone who could be asked to fill in for Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote or Jake Granville at any point in time.
"You've got to train well yourself but you've also got to watch what other people in those positions are doing at training," said Hampton, who has played 36 NRL games to date.
"I've got a lot of players here like Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Jakey Granville, boys that are really good in their positons that I can watch as well and pick up a few little things of what they're doing and how they're controlling the team just in case I do have to slot into one of those positions one day.
"I'm sure after Christmas when we start getting ready for some games that 'Greeny' will give me an idea of what he wants from me and where he wants me to play."