A bit over six months ago Jayden Brailey was just another Cronulla Sharks fan, sitting in the stands at ANZ Stadium to watch the club win their historic first premiership.
What a ride it has been since then.
In less than seven months, Brailey has played in a World Club Challenge and made his NRL debut, playing well enough to retain his spot in Cronulla’s starting side for their seven games so far. He will start an eighth on Saturday night when the Sharks host the Gold Coast Titans at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Not a bad start for Brailey, the Holden Cup player of the year last season, who couldn’t believe at the time he was on the plane to the UK to face Wigan in February.
“I obviously had the goal to be in this position. But to play [seven games] straight at the moment, I wouldn’t say breached my expectations but it’s definitely well and truly lived up to [them],” he said.
“I was just hoping to debut this year but I’m going really well at the moment. In saying that there’s still a long way to go. It doesn’t mean too much if you don’t continue to progress. But I’ve just enjoyed the last six weeks [plus] the World Club Challenge. It’s been a great ride and I can’t wait to continue this journey."
The Aquinas Colts junior and former Junior Kangaroo also enjoyed one of the better gifts a young footballer could receive to celebrate his 21st birthday – a win over one of the game’s legends, Cameron Smith.
Brailey has surprised many with how easily he has taken to first grade. While his style is different to retired premiership-winning hooker Michael Ennis, he certainly hasn’t looked out of place. He has been strong in defence and tidy out of dummy-half. He has even managed to bag himself a couple of tries.
That win over the Storm in Melbourne earlier this month has been the highlight so far, with Brailey scoring a win over one of his idols.
“Coming up against Cameron Smith sort of got me up a little bit more as well,” he said.
“It was a pretty good feeling. It was my birthday as well so that made it feel even better. Cam’s one of the best dummy halves to play the game. Just playing against him was pretty surreal. Every week I watch a bit of video on him, especially with his defence and the way he wrestles. Even when I was a young bloke I’ve always watched him. He’s just a player I really look up to.
“It was pretty daunting [playing against Melbourne] just because of the quality of players in that team. But then I look around my team and all the blokes around me are just as good.”