Billy Gilbert was working on a mate's grader on a farm out west when his phone rang late last year.
On the other end was Cessnock coach Todd Edwards, whose recruitment contacts stretch further and wider than most.
Gilbert says footy wasn't really on his radar at that stage because he wasn't even sure he wanted to play this season after sitting out 2020 because of COVID.
"But Toddy rang and changed all that so here I am," he says.
From Darlington Point, where his mum and dad run a hobby farm, Gilbert played with the Central Queensland Capras out of Rockhampton in the Queensland Cup in 2019, mostly at lock.
But he has dropped some weight and is now scheming out of dummy half for both the Goannas and Newcastle Rebels. He was man of the match and players' player in the Rebels' big Steel City Challenge win over Illawarra last Sunday in Wollongong.
"He's a bushie Billy, a bit of a cowboy and a real salt-of-the-earth type bloke who plays really tough and just has good footy awareness," Edwards said.
"He's a popular bloke at our joint and a good fella to have around the boys."
Gilbert says he is loving living in Newcastle and playing for the Goannas.
"It's been great. I'd never been to Newcastle before and it's a real tough comp - right up there with the Q Cup," he said.
"Toddy's doing a top job and we're giving it a good crack so we'll see how we go."
As for his rep performance against Illawarra, Gilbert played it right down.
"I didn't do anything special, to be honest," he said. "Mate, I'm just having a dig and playing footy for my club, my family and the community and it means more to win for them. All us boys, we just ripped and teared and had a crack and that's what you want from everyone in these games.
"It was just good to win it for Aaron [coach Watts] and the rest of the coaching and support staff.
"We only had three sessions together coming in but there was a lot of camaraderie among the boys and the coaches did a great job bringing it all together.
" I loved it, mate."
POINTS: Central 12, Pickers, Scorpions, Goannas 10, Tigers, Wyong 8, Kurri 4, Souths, Lakes 2, Wests 0.
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