Dragons duo’s Origin dream
By the end of Cameron McInnes's career, forgive him if he fails to crack a smile.
Forgive him if he's hard to understand. Because at 24 years of age, things are looking grim.
The St George Illawarra Dragons hooker has given up hope of fixing his pearly whites until the end of his career after revealing he'll play the 2018 Telstra Premiership with a soft gel brace to stabilise his bottom set of teeth.
After playing in every game for the Red V in his debut season at the club last year, McInnes copped enough knocks during every 1155 tackles - the most of any other player in 2017 - to jolt more free.
"If I take the brace out they're loose. I can wiggle them and they could just fall out," McInnes told NRL.com.
"I got a big whack last year but even with a mouthguard it knocked them all out of place."
Already sporting a fake front tooth he can remove before training sessions and games, McInnes is resigned to waiting possibly another decade to resolve his entire mouth's issues.
By then, he could either be a dentist's dream or total nightmare.
"They can do the front tooth now but I need a screw in and if I get it knocked it will just be a waste of money," he said.
"I'm not willing to put any money into my teeth now. After I finish with my career I'll get them all done."
While the former South Sydney Rabbitohs rake struggles to hold onto his teeth, fellow No.9s don't seem to have the same issue.
"Maybe it's my technique or I just get unlucky, I'm not sure," McInnes said.
"I've always got knocked in the teeth from a young age. When fatigue sets in I put my head in the way just to make sure I make the tackle.
"Mum and Dad care because they paid for braces when I was younger. The missus isn't too happy about it all now but oh well."
The "oh well" answer is exactly how McInnes feels. He's not concerned about personal looks but rather what he can offer the Dragons after an impressive 2017 season.
After departing the Rabbitohs, he became one of the buys of the year following his move to Wollongong and has been earmarked as a potential State of Origin bolter.
But the individual accolades meant little for the Botany junior as the Dragons crashed out of top-eight contention with a shock six-point loss to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the final round of the regular season.
"For two weeks after that round 26 loss I was shattered," McInnes said.
"When I reflected a bit later I was happy with my season overall, playing 80 minutes every week and proving to myself I can play the way I know I'm capable of.
"When I was at Souths, and I don't like to go back to that too much, but the most frustrating part of that experience was not playing to my potential.
"It's hard to explain but it was a real mental shift coming to the Dragons. It was a great opportunity not many people get. I knew that I had to make the most of it. That started with changing the way I thought.
"Now I'm behind one of the best packs, if not the best in the comp, and you throw in Gareth Widdop on one side and now Ben Hunt on the other … it's not the hardest job in the world."