Mates in Origin action

Long time coming: Former St Marys juniors Michael Jennings and Tim Grant at the Blues camp on Monday. Picture: Brendan EspositoDOUG Falconer can still remember that under-11s side with the lightning fast Michael Jennings and the committed — albeit puffed — Timmy Grant.
Nanjing Night Net

One had all the traits of a superstar in the making — the other, not quite as much.

It was 1999 and the St Marys Junior Rugby League Club teammates were in the first year of a remarkable journey together that, on Monday afternoon, led them to stand side by side at the Crowne Plaza in Coogee, decked out in blue and ready to take their childhood alliance into the State of Origin arena.

Watching as they run through the ANZ Stadium tunnel and into the Origin pandemonium next Wednesday night will be Falconer, the St Marys JRLC rugby league administrator who witnessed the duo’s rise from young-gun footy enthusiasts to Penrith first grade sensations and now Blues representatives.

“Timmy Grant was a late bloomer,” Falconer recalled.

“He was a very big boy and he found it difficult on occasions to finish some of the games.

“Michael was always a standout player, always fast and elusive, and a good try-scorer, as he is now.”

Falconer has been a member of the St Marys club for 53 years.

With ease, he’s able to recite the fact Grant began playing with the club at seven years of age, totalling 168 games across 11 years while Jennings donned his first St Marys jersey at 11 years of age, appearing in 110 games during seven years of service.

Asked if, a decade or so ago, he would have believed anyone who told him Grant would become a State of Origin player, Falconer replied: “probably . . . with his dedication, yes, but he had a lot of work to do on his fitness and he’s done that.”

In the eyes of Falconer, Grant’s dedication and will to win has been key in making the transition from a kid who was simply a prop “because he was just big in every department” to a NSW metre eater.

“He only ever wanted to play with Penrith, he had no ambitions for any other club,” Falconer said.

“He was a very quiet, well mannered young man and very respectful to his parents and peers and the club — he was the ideal son you’d want.”

As for Jennings, Falconer believes the speedster was born to be the NSW and Australian representative he’s evolved into.

“Michael was just a natural athlete,” he said. “He’d rise to the occasion if need be and when not necessary, he’d go with the flow. He is very talented and he is a team player — some people don’t believe that — but he is.”

While Jennings is set to make his sixth appearance for NSW, his formerly chubby pal will make his very first.

But Falconer has absolutely no doubt Grant will power through the game in an effort the NSW debutant’s former 11-year-old, easily fatigued self could only admire.

“I think he’ll be very, very nervous but he’ll handle it,” he said. “He’s got that aggressive nature in his game so if he can control that, and he will, he’ll go really well.”

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