Nelson Bay lock Adam Edwards joined the Hunter Wildfires representative program in February to "help make up the numbers". The longneck on the trip home after training was a bonus.
On Saturday, Edwards captained the Hunters Wildfires for a second straight week when they took on Shute Shield heavyweight Manly at Manly Oval. The Wildfires played to a 29-all draw with the Marlins.
Edwards was handed the role after Chris Ale tore his calf in the lead-up to the clash against Sydney Uni and responded with a wholehearted performance in the 59-10 loss that earned him players' player.
"I didn't find out about it until an hour before kick-off and was a little surprised because there are some really good leaders in the team," the 31-year-old builder said. "When you a playing at this level, you pretty much flip the coin and choose whether to kick off. There was no inspirational speech or anything. Still it was a massive honour."
Steve Lamont, Ben Ham, Brendan Holliday and Marlon Solofuti have all skippered club sides, but Wildfires coach Scott Coleman said Edwards' team-first approach made him the perfect man for the job.
"After the first game against Randwick he swept the shed out ... things like that," Coleman said. "He is just a real team player. He surprised me how good a players he is. You put him in a team where everyone knows their job and he just has to concentrate on his job and he is phenomenal. Every week, he has got better and better."
Edwards went to school at Wanghanui City College, which is just outside renowned All Black breeding ground Palmerston North.
"It was a pretty good standard of footy," Edwards said. "In the 2015 World Cup there was seven boys from my 1st XV playing for four different countries. We played Wesley College and Fielding Ag, who had all the Whitelock brothers and Aaron Smith, and a lot of the other top teams."
After completing high school, Edwards moved to Nelson Bay in 2007 and had been content playing for the Gropers.
"Before COVID hit, Bubba (Coleman) called me and said the rep team was a bit short on second-rowers and I agreed to help make up the numbers," he said. "I had heard about Bubba, but never met him, and wasn't the biggest fan to be honest. I got there and really enjoyed it. We went to Wollongong and played. Then after COVID, he was straight on the phone and asked if I would stay in the program. I said 'I'd love to, it's awesome'.
"I am really enjoying learning. You lack that a bit up at the Bay because there is not that expectation on us. You get to training and sometimes go through the motions. At the Wildfires, you have the likes of Steve Lamont and Ben Ham. You can see why they are so successful. They demand a standard that you have to live up to."
Edwards is one of four Gropers alongside Charles Fielder (halfback), Chad Nortcott (fullback) and Daniel Davis (prop) in the Wildfires squad.
"We car pool to training and get a longneck for the trip home," Edwards said. "That's usually how it works. It's good fun."
Coleman said Edwards hadn't missed a training session.
"We have added a video session on Monday nights to the schedule and I told the Bay boys I would understand if they couldn't make it," Coleman said. "They said 'no problems, that's another longneck on the way home."
Although new to the Shute Shield, Edwards said the players were adjusting and growing in confidence with every game, despite opening with three straight losses.
"The coaching staff keep emphasising that we are not that far off," Edwards said. "We didn't have a pre-season and we haven't been in programs for three or four years with each other like the other clubs. When you bring players in from nine cubs, there are those little things we lack. Our lift at the lineout has been killing us. That's because we aren't used to the timing or know each others triggers. That sort of stuff. In defence you need to develop trust and know how people defend. In attack, what lines boys are going to run. That will come with time.
"Bubba keeps saying don't expect to be trailblazers, don't expect miracles. Trust what we are doing and that we are on the right path.
"We have to be on point week after week to compete. If we are really good we will get some wins. But if we are a little bit off, these guys will find our weakness and put us to the sword, which we found out in the first 25 minutes against Sydney University.
"We are just trying to get better every week and hopefully we hit our straps pretty soon. There is a buzz around the group. Nobody is saying this is a bad idea. Everyone is relishing the challenge. It can only make Newcastle rugby stronger."
After playing well in patches in the opening three loses to Randwick (50-7), Eastwood (46-11) and Sydney University (59-10), the Wildfires produced a committed effort for 80 minutes against the Marlins. The two points from Saturday's draw a plus bonus point moved the Wildfires above Penrith, West Harbour and Western Sydney and into 10th spot.