THERE was a time when Luke Burgess's parents thought he should abandon his rugby career and return to university.
After representing the Australian under-21s, Burgess's career had stalled.
The ambitious halfback left Sydney University for the ACT Brumbies in 2004 but was stuck in the giant shadow of then Wallabies captain George Gregan.
"Luke was halfway through a degree in medical radiation therapy, which irked me a little bit," his mother, Cathy, told The Herald yesterday from their family home in Maitland.
"He got offered a spot at the Brumbies and took off at 100 miles an hour. You could not see him for dust.
"There were moments [when he was in Canberra] when we thought that this could be the end of the rugby career and he should go back to university.
"But he was determined to stick at it. He has amazing resilience and was able to put up with all the disappointments."
His determination and desire paid off in spades.
Now 24, Burgess will make his Test debut when the Wallabies take on Ireland at the Telstra Dome in Melbourne tomorrow night.
Born in Newcastle, Burgess played juniors with the Maitland Blacks until under-12s then headed to renowned rugby nursery St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, for high school.
He continues a proud line of Hunter-born Wallaby halfbacks headed by Cyril Burke and including the likes of John Hipwell, Dominic Vaughan, Steve Merrick and Josh Valentine.
"He is very mindful of the history of Wallabies halfbacks," Cathy said.
"I had a phone call from the Maitland rugby club, and they told me they had been going 130 years and Luke was their first Wallaby. He is very appreciative of his days at Maitland.
"It was a great club atmosphere, and he learnt his team values playing in the under-10s and 12s at the Blacks. He looks back on those days with fond memories."
Burgess's father, Rohan, was also a talented rugby player. He played fullback alongside Hipwell at The Waratahs in Newcastle and played first grade at Sydney University.
"His father is very excited and happy for him," Cathy said.
"Rohan was instrumental in Luke sticking at it. He gave him constant reassurance and encouragement.
"Luke bounces a lot of ideas off his father, which is a great thing."
Most probably due to his father's influence, Burgess fell in love with rugby at an early age.
"He loved playing and always dreamt of being a Wallaby," Cathy said.
"Luke and [older brother] Michael were constantly tackling one another up and down the hallways, in the backyard, egging one another on.
"I was going through some things at home last night and I found a little pennant he received from going to a Wallabies training clinic in Maitland.
"You look back and think, 'Gee whiz, it paid off.' "
Not surprisingly, Rohan and Cathy will be at the Telstra Dome tomorrow night.
Cathy spoke to her son on Wednesday night and said he was handling the hype well.
"He keeps things under control," she said. "I think he is churning up inside, but he has learnt to channel that energy."
The same can't be said about his mother.
"Rohan is pretty calm, but I'm very nervous," she said.
World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones has been one of many to endorse Burgess's Wallabies selection, describing him as "probably the most complete young halfback I've seen for a decade".
Burgess and Farr-Jones followed a similar path to Wallabies selection.
Like Burgess, who could only make the second XV at St Joseph's, Farr-Jones was in the seconds at Newington.
From Joeys, Burgess joined Sydney University colts, where he won a premiership.
He was lured to the Brumbies in 2004 but made only two Super rugby appearances in four seasons.
While contracted at the Brumbies, he played Sydney club rugby for Easts and guided the Beasts to the grand final in 2007 their first in 16 years.
After an eye-catching stint with the Melbourne Rebels in the now-defunct Australian Rugby Championship, Burgess signed a two-year deal with the NSW Waratahs.
He started the season behind Brett Sheehan and Valentine but was elevated to the starting side in round eight and went on to be a driving force as the Tahs progressed to the Super 14 final.