Cody Walker was sleeping on a single mattress on the loungeroom floor of a Gold Coast apartment chasing his NRL dream at the Titans when the Indigenous All Stars concept kicked off more than a decade ago.
And now, 11 years later, Walker - who has taken one of the longest and most persistent journeys to the NRL, is revelling in his status as a genuine All Star, captaining the Indigenous side for the second time in Saturday's clash with the Maori in Townsville.
For a player that had to fight tooth and nail to finally get a start in the NRL at the age of 26, where he sits now at 31 is an emotional testament to his never-say-die attitude.
"It means absolutely everything to me," Walker said.
"I remember when the first All Stars was about on the Gold Coast. I was literally staying in an apartment on the Gold Coast, sleeping on a single mattress in the loungeroom watching the game so to be here and captain the side is just unbelievable.
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"It’s an unbelievable feeling not only for myself but my family."
Indigenous coach Laurie Daley said Walker’s rise was an inspiration to the youth of today not to give up when their dreams appear over.
Walker fought his way to the Telstra Premiership via stints at the Gold Coast, Melbourne, the NSW Cup and the Queensland Cup before finally getting an NRL debut with the Rabbitohs in 2016.
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"That is what we love about the game and love about guys like Cody that they’ve got passion, they believe in themselves and never give up," Daley said.
"It’s a great story for our youth if you’re prepared to work hard and make those sacrifices then anything is possible and you shouldn’t be pigeon-holed just because you haven’t made it at 19, 20 or 21.
"Obviously everyone’s circumstances are different but I mean watching Cody play the last couple of years has been tremendous.
"The sign of a really good player is there is not much difference between their best and worst and that is Cody. Every week you know he is going to give you that eight out of 10 and he might go higher but he doesn’t drop underneath that.
"Cody is a leader, he is very passionate about his culture and wants to make a difference. Not only is he making a difference here on the field but he will make a difference when his footy career is over."
Walker’s halves partner, Jamal Fogarty, has followed a similar journey to the NRL, finally securing regular first-grade action last year with the Gold Coast Titans at the age of 26.
Daley has been impressed with Fogarty’s exuberance and leadership in camp coming in as a mature-age rookie and is excited by what he can produce on the field at QCB Stadium.
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"He has been excellent, to be honest with you. Sometimes mature-age players when they come into the system and they’ve haven’t been on this scene for a long time they’re quite intimidated and don’t say a great deal but Jamal has hit the ground running and formed a really good combination with Cody and is a good talker and feels comfortable," Daley said.
"I’m really looking forward to seeing how he goes tomorrow night, he is ready for a big performance.
"He is a guy a lot of us hadn’t heard of until last year but he is also a talent and gets an opportunity on this stage to showcase his skills. I’m really excited to see how he goes."