Cameron Cullen's inspiring journey from heartbreak to hope
Cameron Cullen has experienced the ultimate heartache in his young life but has emerged from the darkness with genuine hope for better days ahead as he aims to revitalise his dream of a long career in the NRL.
Before the 24-year-old Redcliffe Dolphins captain played in the Telstra Premiership with Gold Coast and Manly, he sadly lost his brother Justin to a diving accident off the Maldives in July of 2015.
Cullen, who was playing with the Mackay Cutters at the time after doing a pre-season with North Queensland, did not play for the rest of the 2015 season after that heartbreak.
He then linked with the Titans in 2016 where he made his NRL debut and won the Intrust Super Cup premiership with the Burleigh Bears.
When Cullen sat down with NRL.com to talk about his rugby league career it was with a heavy heart but he also dreams for a bright future.
"When my brother passed away in 2015 it changed my life forever," Cullen said.
"It changed the way I look at life and rugby league as well. It did make me become a family-orientated person and is why in 2016 I moved back to the Gold Coast and was able to get my start there, which opened the door to go down to Manly.
"It is not hard for me to be motivated and driven because that type of thing never leaves me. It is something that I think about every day, whether I want to or not.
"With the type of person my brother was, it is not hard for me to try and use that as a positive."
Cullen said he did not regret the Manly experience despite being released from the final year of his contract at the end of 2017 due to family reasons.
"It is a really expensive place to live, Sydney. I was on a minimum wage and it was fairly stressful financially, but I got a lot of it as a person and a player," he said.
"I've made a decision to be back home around family and for what is best for my partner Charis [Simper] and my daughter Coast ... I want to be better than what I was last year and get a crack at the NRL here."
Cullen said learned plenty from Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly about professionalism and how to prepare for games, but their bond went a lot further than that.
"There is a massive misconception about Daly because of the backflip on the Gold Coast and I didn't know what to expect going down there, but he was really good to me personally," Cullen said.
"Daly invited me into his home and made me feel really welcome, and me and my family spent a lot of time with his family.
"On the field I learned heaps and did a lot of extras and kicking with him. I can see why he has been so successful because he is the ultimate competitor, even if you are playing a muck-a-round game he won't want to lose it."
Cullen's stint at the Cowboys moulded him into a half after playing predominantly at hooker during his time at Brisbane.
"Doing four months under Johnathan Thurston was one of the most exciting and best things I've ever done because I learned so much off him. I've been an out-and-out half since then," he said.
"He is the type of player where you don't need him to say anything to you to learn something off him. You just watch him.
"At that stage of my career I was a very erratic player, but I learned about composure just from watching him train."
Cullen played his first Intrust Super Cup game with the Dolphins as a 19-year-old he was at the Broncos that made the decision easier to link back with the club.
"I know there is a pathway there. I've had a relationship with Wayne Bennett before and he knows me and the type of player I am," he said.
"It is just a matter of playing some really good footy and when someone decides they need a halfback, I'll be there."