Jayden Brailey watched on from the stands last season as Cronulla won their historic first premiership.
Now, it’s his turn.
Brailey will make his first finals appearance when the Sharks host North Queensland in an elimination final at Allianz Stadium on Sunday. It is the third year in a row and fourth time in five years that Cronulla and the Cowboys have met in a do or die final, with the 2016 premiers holding a 2-1 advantage over the 2015 champions.
The 21-year-old Aquinas Colts junior is the odd one out among many of his teammates. Most have at least one premiership ring. And Brailey told the Leader he is ready to win his.
“I probably didn’t expect it, to be playing as much as I am. But I’ve just grabbed it with both hands and just tried to play as best I can each week,” he said.
“I’m sure at the end of the season I’ll stop and reflect on what I’ve done and I’ll be pretty proud. But it’ll be nice if I’ve got a ring on my finger at the end of it. I can’t even explain how exciting that would be.
“I feel pretty comfortable because I know they’ve all been there and done it. I’ve just got to nail my job and get my head around what I need to do because I know everyone else around me is going to lift for the big games.”
Brailey, a former junior Kangaroo representative and last season’s Holden Cup player of the year, has impressed many with the way he has made the jump to first grade. As well as his obvious talent and smarts as a player, Brailey has proven he is tough enough. A badly broken jaw saw him miss seven weeks but he resolved to take it as a positive. He treated the break like a mini pre-season. He worked hard on his conditioning, lifted weights and ate as much as he could.
He felt he was hitting a flat period just before his injury as his young body learnt to deal with the rigours of NRL football. Now he is refreshed and ready for his first finals series.
“It’s been a dream come true just playing in the NRL but the finals is a completely different beast,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve found my rhythm really quickly. I feel like I’m ready and back to being able to play big minutes.
“It’s do or die now. We’ve got to win every game from here on in. I’m so excited to rip in and play with the best and play against the best.”