Ross takes centre stage for City
Try telling Newcastle Knights winger Nathan Ross the final Country-City fixture means little as the City side assembled in Sydney on Monday.
It has been a remarkable journey for the "Ross Dog" after a number of years grinding his way through the grades to now earning his first representative jersey in the centres after an impressive start to the season in a struggling Knights outfit.
The 28-year-old admitted there were almost tears when he was informed by Knights general manager Darren Mooney on Sunday night of his selection, and was prepared to walk to Sydney if he had to in order to meet his new teammates in camp.
"[Darren] called me and he didn't tell me at first and then halfway through the conversation he stopped me and said 'you're in the City team, mate'," Ross told NRL.com.
"I literally nearly cried… I'm elated right now and my partner was so happy because she knows how hard I've worked to get to where I am.
"I didn't know how I was going to get down [to Sydney] and 'Moons' said he'd work it out.
I just said to him I'd catch a train, get a bus or walk if I have to, that's how keen I was to get into camp."
"I just said to him I'd catch a train, get a bus or walk if I have to, that's how keen I was to get into camp."
After setting himself a target of just cementing a position in the Newcastle backline for Round 1, the Coogee Randwick Wombats junior has written "CC" on the taping around his wrists throughout training sessions signalling his intent and determination to feature in Brad Fittler's team from early on in the season.
Ross reflected on a time when former Knights coach Wayne Bennett told him he wasn't good enough to play in the Telstra Premiership.
"This is the second goal I've set myself this year and to tick that off is massive but they're all baby steps to the legacy I want to leave behind in the game," he said.
"To be told you'd never play in the NRL to now be playing in a representative game is huge and doesn’t take the shine off it for some people trying to dull down the experience by saying it doesn’t mean much anymore.
"For every player in this camp it's still a massive honour to represent City.
"I used it as a motivator when I first started but it doesn't get you that far. I changed my motivation of trying to prove people wrong to trying to make the closest people around me proud and I've found that’s why I have been playing my best footy."
You would be forgiven for assuming Ross was a country boy after playing for Kurri Kurri prior to his career at the Knights. The fan favourite doesn’t shy away from where he started out in the heart of Sydney but admits the country experience offered him a level of perspective.
"To play for a country town [like Kurri] and see how much rugby league means to a community is probably where I fell back in love with the game back in 2013," Ross said.
"I have bounced around a bit with my football but my roots and heritage is definitely in the city."
If making the side wasn't enough to boost the confidence of the backline utility, being named in the centres – a position he considers his most preferred – was icing on the cake.
"It's a position I've hinted towards wanting to play in and when I play at Newcastle I do attack a bit in the centres and then defend on the wing," Ross said.
"I've got good flow there with [Knights centre] Peter Mata'utia, he's a great defensive player and one of my best mates so in terms of the balance it doesn't affect me too much because I still get to attack there.
"This game will be an awesome opportunity to showcase myself as a centre for the future."
While some NRL clubs have been reluctant to make players available for the clash in Mudgee on Sunday, Ross will train alongside former Australian internationals Paul Gallen, Matt Moylan and James Tamou in the City line-up this week – an experience that is only going to benefit the late-bloomer's game further.
"I feel the work I'm doing in Newcastle is consistent and to be doing it for a struggling team I think it makes it more impressive because it is hard to shine or perform week in week out for a side that isn't going too well," he said.
"To come here and learn from people who have played Origin and for Australia, I'm now in a position where I can take that knowledge back to educate my teammates and help make Newcastle great again."
Ross and Knights teammate Pauli Pauli become just the fourth and fifth players to represent City in Newcastle's 30-year history.