Last year, Penrith tyro Liam Martin wasn't even sure he was a first-grader – now he's being spoken of alongside the likes of Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell for NSW Origin spots.
Martin had a nervous start to his NRL career, with the struggling Panthers losing his first five games in the top grade through the early parts of 2019.
His first game as a starting edge forward coincided with his first win at that level and he admitted to NRL.com after that 15-12 triumph over Manly that he had felt nervous and out of his depth through those six games.
What a difference a year makes.
Martin started the final six games of 2019 on the edge and that is the period he believes helped convince him he is actually an NRL player.
This year he had to deal with the club recruiting Kurt Capewell over the top of him but he dealt with his short bench demotion well and soon enough an unfortunate knee injury for the former Shark had Martin back in the starting side.
Then there were four …
After 18 wins in 19 games, he is now a serious smokey for Brad Fittler's extended Blues squad.
"It's been an unreal year; when they got Kurt I was sweet with it, I knew that's the best thing for the club and I was happy to play like a utility," Martin told NRL.com.
"When he went down, that was my first game back from doing my quad and they threw me in for 78 minutes which was a bit of a shock. How the team's been playing it's been pretty easy to do my job."
Match: Panthers v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
Martin credits coach Ivan Cleary for helping instil the self-belief that has underpinned his impressive and consistent 2020 form.
"He's known I've had the ability, he's just worked on my confidence this year," Martin said.
"He always knew that was probably my biggest struggle. He's been a great help, he's made a difference.
"Towards the back end of last year I started to feel a lot more confident out on the field in my ability and I think it's just grown this year where I'm finally in the space where I get on the field and I'm feeling confident."
Martin is still wrapping his head around having his name tossed up into Origin conversations alongside the likes of Boyd Cordner, Angus Crichton and Tyson Frizell – the three edge forwards already listed from teams so far eliminated.
The likes of Wade Graham, Ryan Matterson and Tariq Sims have already missed out. Martin is the only NSW-eligible edge forward from the remaining four teams other than Rabbitoh Bayley Sironen, who is not in the Origin frame at this stage of his career.
That means with Blues captain Cordner, auto-pick Frizell and in-form Rooster Crichton all likely for the best 17 on November 4, any injuries or rotation would have Martin short odds for an Origin debut unless Fittler chose to recall Graham or blood Matterson from outside the current squad.
Preparing the Panthers
"It has [crept into] the back of my mind," Martin admitted.
"It would be incredible to even get the opportunity to be in the squad. I'm just taking it as it goes, I'm not being too optimistic I guess. I'll just see how it unfolds.
"it's a huge honour [to even be in the conversation], I've looked up to Boyd Cordner and Tyson Frizell for years, they've been the benchmark. If I got the opportunity to learn off them it would be incredible."
Martin said he hasn't heard anything from Fittler at this stage but got the chance to work with the Blues coach at this year's emerging Origin camp back in the pre-season alongside teammates Matt Burton and Spencer Leniu.
"If I got that opportunity [to join the extended squad] it would be incredible, it would be a massive learning opportunity," he added.
In the short term, Martin will be tasked with helping Nathan Cleary and Brent Naden shut down the best attacking edge in the NRL, including danger man Cody Walker.
"I was watching it on the weekend, Cody Walker is electric, he's going to be a big focus on our edge," Martin said.
"You have the likes of [Alex] Johnston and [Dane] Gagai who are threatening, it's going to be a big job for us.
"Watching on the weekend, that's what I was focusing more against, who I was up against and what their main threats are. That's definitely where they'll be coming."