CORY Denniss admits he still finds it hard to believe.
This time last year, like most of his mates at Swansea High School, he was preparing for his Higher School Certificate exams and playing on the weekends for Lakes United under-19s.
If someone had suggested that within 12 months he would be sharing a field with his heroes in the NRL, he would have laughed at them.
Fast-forward to early March and he is shocked to find himself training with Newcastle’s top-grade squad, most of whom vaguely recognise him as “Cory, from the under-20s”, but don’t even know his surname.
He is quickly tagged Cory Oates, after the Brisbane and Queensland winger, and “Oatesy” becomes a nickname that seems certain to stick.
Then Knights coach Nathan Brown was over to inform Denniss that Akuila Uate is out injured. “You’re playing,’’ Brown says.
Two days later, the 18-year-old makes his debut in the 24-all draw with Canberra, an occasion he marks with two tries.
Only three players – Owen Craigie, Sione Mata’utia and Jarrod Mullen – have scored tries for Newcastle at a younger age.
“It’s still very surreal,’’ Denniss told League HQ. “Even thinking about it gives me goosebumps.’’
Signed to a modest National Youth Competition contract, Denniss said his only goal was “to have a good pre-season and cement a spot in the 20s’’.
To feature in four NRL games – No.5 will be against premiers North Queensland on Saturday – has been beyond his wildest dreams.
Against Parramatta on Monday night, he raced 60 metres to set up a try for his left-edge partner Nathan Ross with a one-handed pass.
“I got a bit lucky,’’ he said.
“The referee got in the way a bit but my long legs strided out and Rossy was there in support.’’
Ross said he and Denniss had quickly worked up an understanding in their two games playing side by side.
“It’s tremendous, actually,’’ Ross said. “Cory’s a good young talent and he’s a big body type, so to have him and Pauli Pauli next to me, it puts a bit of confidence in me, the big fellas.’’
Denniss, who lives with his parents at lakeside Pelican and has been juggling his work as a trainee telecommunications electrician with training and playing commitments, admits “there’s still a lot to learn’’ and is soaking up every piece of advice he receives on the training pitch.
His raw potential brings a smile to the face of coach Brown. “I keep picturing him how he’s going to be in two or three years, when he builds on his frame,’’ Brown said of the 190-centimetre, 94-kilogram tyro.