Dragons half admits: It's my last chance
He needs just an opportunity and 80 minutes to show he belongs in the NRL but Dragons half Shaun Nona admits that at 26 years of age, this could well be his last chance.
Inspired by fellow former Intrust Super Cup graduate Cody Walker who made his NRL debut with the Rabbitohs last year as a 26-year-old, Nona is fighting to join Gareth Widdop in the St George Illawarra halves following the season-ending knee injury to youngster Drew Hutchison.
After guiding the Northern Pride to the Intrust Super Cup and NRL State Championship titles in 2014, Nona spent the 2015 season with the Melbourne Storm but failed to earn a berth in the NRL squad.
He was driving to Mackay to take up an offer to return to the Intrust Super Cup later that year before his former mentor at the Pride, Jason Demetriou, invited him to join the Cutters of the Illawarra variety instead.
Just as they did with the Pride, Demetriou and Nona were instrumental factors in the Cutters winning the Intrust Super Premiership and NRL State Championship for a second time and with his contract with the Dragons expiring at the end of 2017, Nona is desperate for one chance to prove himself.
"I'd be happy with just one or two games to be honest. I don't think I need much more than that to prove myself," Nona told NRL.com.
"I'm 26 years old, I've done all the things in the leagues below and I'm ready to prove myself at the next level.
"I'm pretty confident that if I'm given the opportunity I can lead this team around.
"I was at Melbourne and it didn't work out there but I didn't want to give up at the time so I kept pushing myself and I'm here at the Dragons now.
"This will pretty much be my last opportunity to push myself to get that debut.
"That's how I see it. With my age at 26 now there are a lot of young kids coming through who are faster and just as skilful."
Although an ankle injury five minutes from the end of the Cutters' big State Championship win over Burleigh saw Nona head for off-season surgery, he said the Dragons medical staff have him fit and firing for the start of 2017.
He played in the Dragons side that took part in last weekend's Downer NRL Auckland Nines and will turn out in the i98FM Challenge trial game against the Wests Tigers at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
Fellow halves hopefuls Josh McCrone and Jai Field have also been named to play against the Tigers and for Nona it represents another step towards an NRL debut that he would dedicate to his wife, parents and three siblings.
"My wife Lea has been through thick and thin with me and she's been through the ups and downs as well. I'd like to just do it for them and myself as well," Nona said of the motivation coming from his family.
"We were actually high school sweethearts. We've been together for 12 or 13 years now. We went to school in Tully, a small town just outside Cairns and got married in 2015.
"She gets a bit homesick now and then but we do get the opportunity to go up home and they're probably the times we cherish the most.
"They're all the motivation to keep going forward."