ANTHONY Cherrington burst into tears when South Sydney coach Michael Maguire told him he was about to play in the NRL again.
The plan was to come off the bench against Manly a few weeks ago.
The only problem was nobody expected halfback Adam Reynolds to make such a speedy recovery from appendicitis, which relegated Cherrington to 18th man.
Last Friday night, Cherrington's long, long wait was over when he ran out against North Queensland.
This was an NRL comeback 2804 days in the making.
He was nervous. He blew almost as hard as Cyclone Debbie early in the second half.
Cherrington's last NRL game was way back in 2009 for his junior club the Sydney Roosters.
Kevin Rudd was our PM, the Black Eyed Peas were dominating the music charts, and those cocky Maroons were still winning Origin.
"The emotions when 'Madge' first told me I'd be playing, I cried straight away because it had been eight years - that's like a lifetime in rugby league," Cherrington said.
"The last two years, there have been times I've woken up and looked down at my knees and thought, 'what is going on, my knees are killing me today'. Then I come here, play a game of NRL, and it wipes that (pain) all away."
Injuries and off-field problems cut Cherrington's first NRL career short.
He suffered three ACL injuries in the space of two years. He was also sentenced to 150 hours of community service for assaulting his former girlfriend.
Determined to not give up on his NRL dream, he spent a couple of seasons in the NSW Cup with Windsor, then the last two years with Redcliffe in the Queensland Cup.
It was north of the border where Souths boss Shane Richardson noticed Cherrington, and needed a cheap, effective replacement for Parramatta-bound Nathan Brown.
Richardson booked a plane ticket to watch Redcliffe play Burleigh in the grand final, but Cherrington was ruled out with injury.
"Redcliffe got smashed that day, mainly in the forwards, but the people I rate up there told me that wouldn't have happened had Cherrington been there," Richardson told The Daily Telegraph.
H"We discussed what had happened in the past, what he was trying to do in the future. He was a big body, tough, so we took a punt. It was like a Lote Tuqiri punt."
Cherrington, now 29, has regrets, but most notably the things he splurged on with his first fat Roosters cheque. For example, there was the Lexus RX350, "which was one of the flashiest cars I had but had to give back".
"And now I'm like, 'how young and dumb was I?'.
"I got in trouble when I was young with my first girlfriend, I had two or three years of getting injured. It's hard not to look back and say, 'look at this, or look at that'.
"But I'm 29 and it's made me who I am. If I hadn't gone through that stuff, I wouldn't be as strong as I am now.
"I was sent videos of my two kids watching me play (the other night), there was so much emotion, and it was so good to feel. The biggest thing was showing the kids 'you should never, ever give up on your dreams'.
"At the back of my mind I always thought I could still play in the NRL, and I did that.
"What a story to tell the kids when I get older. I played in 2009, stopped playing because I got injured, had some stupid things happen, and eight years later I played again."
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