NATHAN Ross has been around the rugby league world and back chasing his dream of playing in the NRL.
That day will finally come for the 26-year-old journeyman when he runs on for the Knights against the Dragons at Jubilee Oval on Sunday.
Ross will become the 261st player to represent the Knights in first grade, their 28th player this year and the seventh to make his Newcastle debut this season behind Jack Stockwell, Tariq Sims, Chad Redman, Carlos Tuimavave, Sam Mataora and Danny Levi.
‘‘I’m over the moon. I haven’t been able to wipe the smile off my face as of yet,’’ Ross said after training on Thursday.
‘‘It’s a dream come true, and I guess it’s a testament to just continuing to back yourself, and even though your back’s against the wall, just keep trying, keep trying, and dreams do come true if you do chase it.
‘‘I’ve been told numerous times from numerous coaches that I’m not quite big enough, not quite fast enough, but if you just keep chipping away, your dreams will come.’’
He is expected to replace Chanel Mata’utia on the right wing outside Dane Gagai, but Ross said he was none the wiser about what position he would play.
‘‘He’s a bit loose, so it will be interesting to see how he goes. All I said to him was don’t do backflips if you score.’’– KADE SNODWEN
‘‘I’m just happy to be a part of the team,’’ he said.
‘‘It doesn’t matter – you can throw me in the front row if you want. I’ll be carting the ball up and giving the team everything I’ve got.
‘‘At this late stage of the season, I thought that it might have slipped me by for another year ... but I always believed in my own ability, and I knew that once I got the opportunity, I’d take it with both hands, and now it’s going to be hard to take the spot away from me.
‘‘I’ve always had a little bit of chat about me, so when everyone’s tired, I’ll use my enthusiasm and chat and get the boys pumping.’’
Known as ‘‘Ross Dog’’ or ‘‘White Lightning’’ among his friends, the fleet-footed, fast-talking fullback has earned a reputation as one of the club’s genuine characters.
At their presentation night in October, as highlights of the NSW Cup team’s charge to the grand final were shown on giant TV screens, Ross stood and applauded every one of his tries.
When he scored three tries in Newcastle’s 48-14 NSW Cup victory over Manly at No.2 Sportsground this month, he celebrated each one with a backflip.
He said his teammates were ‘‘pumped’’ when told he would be joining them on Sunday.
Prop Kade Snowden recommends he leaves that trick in his kit bag if he happens to score against the Dragons, though it may be difficult for him to contain himself.
‘‘He’s been waiting for a while,’’ said Snowden, who will welcome Ross’ chatter and swagger. ‘‘He’s a bit loose, so it will be interesting to see how he goes.
‘‘All I said to him was don’t do backflips if you score.’’
Ross’ career has included stints for Coogee Wombats, for Queensland Cup clubs Burleigh and Tweed Heads, for Newcastle Rugby League clubs Lakes and Kurri Kurri, and even a season in France for Toulouse Olympique.
His father, Mark, was a winger who played 124 games for Penrith, Souths and the Gold Coast in a career spanning 1980 to 1991.
‘‘I’ve been around the world, and some,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve learnt a lot from every place I’ve been, and I can say that I’ve taken away a lot of things from all types of characters and people that I have met in the game, and I think it’s all come together for this moment for my debut.’’
Ross was named NSW Cup fullback of the year last season and turned down an offer from Canterbury to sign a new two-year deal with the Knights.
No matter who the Knights appoint as NRL coach next year, Ross has backed himself to impress the new boss and earn another contract.
‘‘I’ll be in Newcastle next year and I know I’m going to do enough to be here for a few years yet, so you aren’t going to get rid of me too quick,’’ he said.
Ross said nerves would not be an issue for him on Sunday, and he felt no need to harness his energy.
‘‘I don’t get nervous,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve played the game too many times – same-shaped ball, same amount of time.
‘‘I guess I’m always enthusiastic and I’m always energetic so I’m just going to go about day-to-day life. I’ve been mentally preparing for this day for two years now.’’
Caretaker coach Danny Buderus will not finalise his first NRL squad until after their last training session on Saturday, but back-rower Joseph Tapine has been called up for Tariq Sims, who is resting a shoulder injury.
Levi has recovered from a jaw injury he suffered in Newcastle’s 52-6 loss to Souths last Saturday and is expected to play in the National Youth Cup game on Sunday.