When Xavier Savage told his mother he was 18th man for Canberra’s match against St George Illawarra, she insisted on travelling from Cairns to Wollongong because "I know something is going to happen".
Erica Savage’s premonition proved well-founded as the teen winger received an emotional welcome to first grade from teammates for what was effectively an illegal debut when incorrectly sent on as 18th man.
It remains to be seen whether the mix-up will result in the Raiders being sanctioned by the NRL.
Called from the field after just 12 minutes, Savage initially thought he was being replaced because Canberra coach Ricky Stuart had been unhappy with his performance.
The 19-year-old then ran over to the fence to hug Erica and his sister Jaidah before re-joining the Raiders bench.
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"She was like why are you coming off. She said, 'it’s okay, you still went pretty good anyway'," Savage said.
"My mum and sister flew down for the match. My mum had said 'I am going to regret it if I don’t come down. I know something is going to happen'.
"I ran straight to her when I got called off. It was a very surreal moment for me, I have been through a lot growing up. I can’t believe that I actually got out there and fulfilled my childhood dream."
However, Savage had also dreamed of competing at the Olympic Games and his mother would sell cupcakes or raffle tickets to fund trips for him to compete at athletics carnivals.
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He ran 10.95 secs to win the 100m event at the 2018 Queensland Junior Athletics Championships and was also the under 17s 200m and long jump champion but injuries curtailed his sprinting ambitions and led to one of the most bizarre debuts in NRL history.
"At halftime, I saw Seb Kris go off but he passed the HIA test so in my mind I automatically told myself I am not going on," Savage said.
"I was sitting down and then Ricky comes running over and he tell me that I am going to go on, and he shakes my hand.
"I was just in shock and he was saying 'are you okay'. I was speechless, I couldn’t respond to him, I couldn’t get any words out.
“It was an unusual debut, but I will take it. When I got told to come off, I thought I had made a mistake.
"I was apologising to them and saying, ‘what did I do, what did I do'. They said there was a bit of mix-up in communication between the NRL and our playing staff. It was a good experience and I am just excited for what more is to come."
I can’t believe that I actually got out there and fulfilled my childhood dreamNRL rookie Xavier Savage
The reaction of Raiders team-mates, who ran towards the sideline to congratulate him as he came on the field for the second half kick-off was an acknowledgment for the hard work the talented teenager has done since moving to Canberra two years ago.
A member of this year’s SG Ball premiership-winning team, he has had to overcome a syndesmosis injury and two hamstring tears that ended his athletics career as well as the move from Cairns, where Erica raised him and three sisters.
"My mum being a single parent of four kids it was kind of hard paying for sports trips,” Savage said.
"My mum worked her butt off for me to get the opportunities she did, like me making representative teams and her having to afford that.
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"She tried her hardest to raise money. She used to sell cupcakes around Cairns to family and friends, she used to make up raffles or anything just to raise enough money for me to go away on trips and I am so grateful for that.
"She has just been the best and my uncles were all like big brothers to me.
"They kept my head straight. It was tough, not being able to get the things most kids do and the opportunities that most kids get but I am lucky to have such a supportive family back in Cairns."