HYMEL Hunt could hardly have come any closer to making his childhood dream a reality.
The reliable Newcastle Knights outside back spent a month in camp with the Queensland Origin squad last year, desperately hoping to make his debut in a Maroons jersey.
Instead the nearest he came to the action was when he volunteered for ball-boy duties in the series decider at Suncorp Stadium and was able to celebrate a try scored by his fellow Knight and "best mate", towering winger Edrick Lee.
"They asked me if I wanted to be the ball boy, and I jumped at it," Hunt told the Newcastle Herald. "Being on Eddy's sideline, I was sort of like a coach for him.
"It was unreal. Very special. Before the game, he told me that if he scored a try, he'd run straight for me to celebrate, and that's exactly what he did."
Delighted as he was for Lee, deep down inside Hunt was disappointed his own name did not feature on Wayne Bennett's team sheet.
But the 27-year-old returned from the camp convinced his time will come.
"I wouldn't say I was angry or anything, but I thought I was going to get a run," he said.
"But like anything, you can't just kick stones, especially in that sort of environment.
You can't just kick stones.HYMEL HUNT
"You get found out real quick if you are like that.
"I know Wayne talked to the whole squad at the start of the camp and said there was a chance not everyone would get a game.
"But he said if you had a good attitude and trained your arse off, that will count in your favour next time they pick a squad.
"So that was what I did. It wasn't a cruisy camp.
"We trained really hard and that was a great experience for me, to see what was required to play at that elite level."
Hunt returned to training with Newcastle last week after a hard-earned off-season break.
"I hadn't seen my family for 11 months, so I went back home [to Brisbane] for a month and a half to spend some time with them," he said.
"It was unreal to have a good break, but me and Eddy still caught up to do a bit of training together."
Hunt has been a model of consistency for Newcastle since arriving from South Sydney at the end of 2018, playing in 44 of a possible 45 games, and scoring 17 tries.
The only game he missed was in round 18 last season, when coach Adam O'Brien suggested a freshen-up leading into the finals.
"I wanted to play, but Adsy thought it made more sense to have a week off," Hunt said.
Equally at home at centre or wing, on the left or right flank, Hunt's versatility and low-error playing style ensure he is one of the first players O'Brien picks each week.
After Newcastle bowed out in week one of the finals last season, Hunt said his main goal this year was to go "deep" into the play-offs.
In the process, the off-contract 27-year-old hopes to convince the club that he is worth retaining.
A Queensland Origin debut will only help his cause.