In his own words, Jeremy Latimore "was never the most talented" player and "had to work hard for everything" he achieved in an 11-season NRL career.
But what the prop lacked in natural ability he made up for with reliability and a larrikin personality that endeared him to the fans.
A self-described journeyman who played for five clubs – the Sharks, Eels, Warriors, Panthers and Dragons – Latimore recorded 182 first-grade matches after debuting in 2009.
He retired last year and now works as a mortgage broker. The Port Macquarie product caught up with NRL.com to discuss his career.
Legend Q&A: Jeremy Latimore
What was life like growing up and playing junior footy in Port Macquarie?
Port Macquarie's a bit of a coastal, regional town, so I actually did a fair bit of bodyboarding as a young fella. I used to really enjoy that. I had a year off [from footy] when I was 15, actually, just to bodyboard.
After that, I came back and played under 16s and I had a half decent year, but I wasn't affiliated with any NRL clubs at that point. The first year going into under 18s, that was when I started lifting weights and taking it a bit more serious.
My mate who was year younger than me was already signed with the Cronulla Sharks. So he actually spoke to the Sharks – well, his old man did – and got me invited down to a training camp. They used to have them in the school holidays [for] all the boys from the bush.
That was sort of where my journey began and from there Cronulla offered me a contract. I finished my HSC one day and then moved to Sydney the next.
Was it less of a shake-up to move to Cronulla where there are beaches?
Totally right, yeah. Cronulla's a bit segregated from the realities of the city life I think. It's pretty cruisy. Obviously a lot bigger population [than Port Macquarie] and it's still pretty fast-paced down in the [Sutherland] Shire, but it was good.
It felt a bit more homely but at the same time it was a fair bit different to old Port Macquarie. I lived in a house with five other boys: one was from Goulburn, one was from Forster, one was from Mackay, one was from Newcastle and there was another one from Cowra.
Everyone was sort of on the same playing field there. We'd all come to Sydney to follow our dreams.
Did you get disheartened when you didn't debut for Cronulla?
There are plenty of times along the journey that you're questioning what you're doing and whether you have the ability to make it. Even when you make first grade, sometimes in the early days you're questioning whether you belong.
I had a shoulder reconstruction in my second year in Sydney, so that sort of really slowed me down. I didn't rehab it the best. I didn't end up debuting [for Parramatta] until I was 22, turning 23.
I was probably an older debutant. But I think the way things work out, you don't get exposed before you're ready. Mentally I was probably a bit young when I was 21, 22. So when I debuted I feel like I was a bit more ready for it.
Latimore crosses for rare four-pointer
What do you remember from your debut year with the Eels in 2009? A great time for the club.
My debut was something that I'd looked forward to for a long time, so that was pretty special. I think we were winning one [game], losing one, winning one, losing one. I think I got dropped and a couple of weeks after that Haynesy [Jarryd Hayne] hit that bloody form where he went on a golden run.
Then I was lucky enough to come in and play a game against the New Zealand Warriors. We went really well that night. From that game, I think New Zealand saw me play and I got an offer over in New Zealand. I didn't get to play a part in the grand final that year but to be around that [was special].
And Parramatta's [got] a very loyal support base and they love their rugby league, so I do remember that month of the finals the place was rocking.
Was it easy to take the Warriors' offer and move overseas?
It was pretty daunting at the time. I think I only had a one-year offer from Parramatta at that point and that was a two-year offer over there. I had a girlfriend at the time, not a wife or kids – she is now my wife.
It was pretty cool. It was a different sort of experience to living in Sydney and the rugby league exposure is nowhere near what it is in Sydney. Obviously they're a rugby [union] country over there so you can sort of fly under the radar.
It was a really good time in my life. I saw a lot of New Zealand. Jimmy Maloney was with me and he's one of my best mates, so we'd go travelling with him and his wife Jess and my wife now and see Rotorua. Doing things that you wouldn't do when you live in Sydney, going up the coast a bit. We got to experience a lot of what New Zealand had to offer, which was really cool.
You're often described as a "journeyman", having played for five NRL clubs. Is that how you considered yourself?
110 percent. I think early in my career I shied away from it and you're like, 'Ah, I don't see myself as that'. But as you go along, for myself, I sort of embraced that journeyman tag. I met a lot of good people at all the clubs I played with across my journey and [there are] friendships I've built and memories I've created.
You see players like Nathan Hindmarsh who stayed at one club and it would've been pretty cool to be able to do that. But my journey was different to that and it exposed me to a different country and all sorts of different things. It's something that I look back on very fondly.
Is there a club that you feel most attached to?
I'd probably have to say two of them. Before I went to Penrith, I was sort of in and out of first grade a lot. In four years I would have only played 30 or 40 games. And then my first year at Penrith I snapped my bloody ankle in my first game, so I didn't play a lot that year.
But then in my second year I played every game except two I was suspended. That was where I sort of established myself in the NRL and over the next three years I played a large block of games – I think I played 75 or 80 games out there.
So I still have a big soft spot for Penrith. Both of my children came into the world when I was playing for the Panthers. And there were so many memories created – I still talk to Joshy Mansour every second day probably. He's one of my best mates.
I do love that club but at the same time, the Dragons – I had two stints there and I played maybe 60 games there ... So I'm still very invested in that football team and the results that are happening because I still work for the club and I've got a lot of good mates there. I'd definitely say those two clubs but at the same time, every team I've played for holds a place in my heart.
You were known as the life of the party in the dressing room in your final Dragons stint. Did you see that as part of your role?
Bloody oath. Probably early in my career I kept to myself a bit and didn't show my full personality, but as I got older I didn't do that.
I was sort of a bit like that at Penrith but at the Dragons, the fans and the boys really got around it and I probably carried on with it a bit at times. But it's something that really made those last two years a lot of fun.
Obviously on the field last year wasn't that great, but the year before we had a really successful year. It was something I did enjoy because rugby league can be a bit serious at times and I probably went a bit better when I was a bit relaxed ... I feel like I built a real bond with the boys and tried to create that fun environment.
They've got Trent Merrin there now and he's that sort of player as well. He's fun to have around and his teammates enjoy his company. You need those sorts of people in the game because you do get caught up in the emotion and everything going on in the NRL.
You gained cult hero status among the fans. The NRL Roast social media page started calling you the G.O.A.T. and that took off. What did you make of it?
Dean at the NRL Roast – we're mates now. I caught up with him after my last game last year and gave him the boots that I wore. He messaged me on Instagram and asked if he could have them.
He definitely built my online profile a little bit over the last couple of years. There were a couple of things with [accidentally whacking the groin of] Cam Smith and getting a bit loose on the piss at times where a few of the videos went out on social media. Nothing bad, just me having a good time.
He sort of got around all that and obviously the fans are really good at the Dragons. They built me up and when I came out they'd be yelling out for me. So I used to play it up a bit as well. That's something I really enjoyed.
In 2015 you played a PM's XIII match in Papua New Guinea. How was that?
That's the only place in the world where rugby league's the number one sport. It was definitely an awesome experience, especially for me – I never played any rep footy. I always sort of hoped and prayed I'd pull on the Country jersey being a proud country boy, but that never came along.
I got selected in that [PM's] squad to go over there with a lot of talented players and I enjoyed every second of it. The Papua New Guineans love their rugby league. The atmosphere at the game and even the whole experience of being able to pull on that jersey with some of those players, it was definitely one of the highlights of my football career and something that I hold pretty close ... I worked hard and tried to do my best every time I was on the field and I felt like that was recognition for that.
What legacy do you hope you've left in the game?
I know I was never the most talented and I was someone who had to work hard for everything he got. For my teammates, I'd like to think that they knew I was reliable, I would always do my job for the team, and at the same time I used to have a lot of fun and they knew they could rely on me on and off the field.
I don't know from a fan's point of view. I think I always give everyone time, so I'd like to think they think I'm a good guy who did his best for his football team with the ability he had. I don't know – it's weird having to think about that and put that into words.
How are you going in retirement?
Going alright. Obviously not the best year to retire and try and build a business with everything going on with COVID. Had a few challenges but I feel like it's been good.
It's a different sort of life to that rugby league life. It's not as up and down. In saying that, obviously with COVID it's been a real rollercoaster. But I did a lot of work when I played footy in terms of preparing for life after footy. I did a uni degree, I got all my mortgage broking courses, so I'm lucky I'm in a position now where I'm educated.
I still work with the Dragons a couple of days a week doing stuff with the corporate and partnerships team. And then I do my mortgage broking three or four days a week as well. That's something I'm really passionate about and I love still having that affiliation with the club.