Dylan Brown had barely heard of Parramatta when he signed for the club as a 15-year old. Now, he shapes as a key part of the club’s finals charge.
Dylan Brown was getting on the bus.
After all, he wasn’t the 15-year-old, talent scouts from the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta, had flown to New Zealand to check out.
So the halfback, wearing the same boots he’d worn for the past two seasons, was going home.
The NRL club poachers had stood on the sideline of Puketawhero Park, a beautifully manicured footy field in the tourist city of Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island.
At the 2015 Rugby League Nationals Tournament, the Aussie scouts scribbled a thick black line under the name of Northern Swords five-eighth, Paul Turner.
Turner went bang like the gun he remains, scoring six tries in five games. He finished as the Player of the Tournament and has been at the New Zealand Warriors ever since.
On Wednesday, the rising star was named the club’s Jersey Flegg Player of The Year.
But as fate would have it, if it weren’t for Turner, Brown wouldn’t be attempting against Brisbane today to become the first blue and gold five-eighth to win a finals match since Daniel Mortimer in 2009.
“We were getting into the bus and I heard someone call my name,”’ Brown told The Sunday Telegraph.
“He said: ‘Hey mate, you did all right today, we think you’ve got a good set of skills on you and we’re quite keen on you coming to Parramatta.’
Calling Brown down off the bus for a chat was Daniel Anderson, the former Eels recruitment manager, who is now at the Roosters.
Sheepishly, Brown admits now he had little clue who Parramatta were.
“If I was honest, I was like ‘Parramatta? Who are they?’,” Brown smiles.
“They were the last club I expected to be offered (a trial invitation) by.
“They (Eels) actually told me they were looking for someone else (Turner) and they ended up seeing me.
“I remember before one of the games that day, I had seen a Melbourne Storm jacket on someone and I thought ‘far out, that guy is from the Melbourne Storm’.
“Paul had so many people chasing him. He is a freak of a player. Me and him grew up playing together (for the Hikurangi Stags) so we had a good combination that day.”’
Less than two weeks later, the 15-year-old who had no idea who the Eels were was running out in a blue and gold jersey for a trial match at the club’s Old Saleyards training field.
The trial match was part of a three-day “apprentice” camp run by former Parramatta development and junior recruitment manager Craig Wilson — who is now at Canterbury.
The camp allows the Eels to assess not only the football IQ of a player they want to sign, but also their character.
So just like so many other juniors that have progressed for the Eels, Brown’s first day of camp began by interacting with school kids with special needs before visiting the Westmead Children’s Hospital, where he cleaned windows, met patients and tidied gardens.
Brown, just 15, handled everything thrown his way. And as his flawless adaptability to the NRL this year shows, not much has changed.
“Everyone says I’ve always been quite mature,”’ Brown said.
“But It all happened within a couple of weeks and so I had to grow up fast.
“I came over when I was in Year 10, moved into Parra-House — a home for young players who have moved from interstate or overseas — with other boys and went to Hill Sports High.
“I had to make new mates, I didn’t know anyone.
“It was about taking an opportunity because there’s not many like that.
“I came over and they (other boys in the Parra-House) were 18, 19, all Australians. It was a bit of a different environment.
“But we were all there for one thing and that was to play footy. All without family.
“I’m not going to say it was easy, but it paid off.
“In the first year I come over, we took out the Harold Matthews title, then SG Ball and then came second in the under-20s grand final.
“I quickly learned about the Eels outstanding development system and their rich history.”
Rising 11kg from when he arrived as a 15-year-old to be 85kg today, Brown’s driven mentality and maturity on and off the field are his greatest assets.
“We knew from the start that Dylan was going to be a special talent, just from the way he handles himself,”’ Eels captain Clint Gutherson told NRL Tonight on Tuesday.
“He just goes about his business, he wants to get better everyday at training — he’s still only 19.
People underestimate his size and his ability — he’s a pretty big strong boy, people are trying to target him but he’s getting his body in front and that’s what you want as a six.
“He’s got a great future and hopefully it’s at the Parramatta Eels.’”
The Eels return to finals football for just the second time this decade.
Wearing the famous Parramatta No.6 jumper of Brett Kenny is a 19-year-old who has played just 13 first-grade games.
If Brown is nervous, he isn’t showing it.
Perhaps the greatest insight into the level of trust and belief in the former cross-country runner and rugby union schoolboy is that last Thursday, at the Eels all-in media opportunity, instead of being kept off-limits by coach Brad Arthur, Brown was the last player standing talking to the media.
“I don’t feel any pressure whatsoever,” Brown said.
“I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it. That’s what Brad has told us.
“These opportunities don’t come around often, especially me in my first year. I can’t believe it.”’