Kurtis Rowe isn’t the biggest guy you’ll ever meet.
Even when compared to other fullbacks, the quietly-spoken former Junior Kiwi is slight in frame almost as much as he seemingly is in personality.
But when you talk to the 21-year-old about what it was like to make his NRL debut against the North Queensland Cowboys on that chilly Saturday night in April, there’s a confidence and self-belief in his words that you wouldn’t expect to find.
“I guess at the start of the year, you always think about this being the year that you’re going to make your debut,” reflected Rowe, “and while I definitely thought that, I definitely didn’t think I would be making it that early in the year.
“It was really unfortunate for Teddy [James Tedesco] with his injury as he was just killing it, and you don’t want a guy to get hurt just so you can make your debut, but I guess that’s just how it turned out for me and I was so happy for that chance.
“I remember when Coach came to me during the week and told me I was making my debut, I was just over the moon. Even if I didn’t show it, I guess.”
Having played in Holden Cup Grand Finals and for the Junior Kiwis, the former Keebra Park student had already played on stages bigger than most by the time he ran out to face the Cowboys at Campbelltown Sports Stadium. But Rowe conceded that not even playing junior representative football for his country was quite like making his debut.
“It was just unreal to run out on to the field that night,” Rowe said.
“I was a bit nervous running out. I remember the camera was on me when I first ran out, and my friends told me later that the commentators were talking about me, so I was just trying not to look at the camera and try and be all cool and stuff.
“I don’t know how it looked in the end,” he laughed, “but I was just so excited and nervous and pumped all at the same time.
“It was a bonus to get the win on the night — not many get that on their debut.
“I was gutted that I didn’t get to play the whole game; I got a cork on my hip just after half-time and tried to play with it in the second half but it was just too bad and they had to take me off with 15-20 minutes to go or something like that.
“But the boys hung on in the end and got the win, which is something that they’ll never be able to take away from me in my debut game.”
While the Waitara Bears junior admitted that much of the night, including the game itself, seemed to be played in fast-forward in his mind, he remembered his first touch as clear as anything as Jonathan Thurston put a low stab kick into the corner.
“Yeah, JT put it perfectly into the corner as he does and made me work it off my own line,” said Rowe. “He didn’t give me anything easy first up and all I can remember thinking was to catch the ball. I kept telling myself to make sure I played the ball right and don’t drop it or do anything stupid trying to bring the ball back.
“It sounds weird when you say it like that, I guess, but I just didn’t want to make any errors with my first touch and let the boys down like that.
“Once that was out of the way, the game just took over my mind and I relaxed.”
Rowe played a handful of games before Tedesco returned from injury against the Newcastle Knights in Round 13, with an injury to Rowe later on in the year seeing Mitchell Moses take over the fullback jersey. The wiry fullback returned to first-grade in Round 22 on the wing against the North Queensland Cowboys — the side that he made his debut against — and while the result didn’t go his way that night, Rowe said that simply having his debut under his belt would better equip him to succeed in 2015.
“It was unfortunate that I didn’t get to play the last few games of the year,” Rowe conceded, “but I guess injuries and things like that are just part of football. I got my chance off an injury and my injury gave someone else a chance so that’s just life.
“But I guess having made my debut, it just makes you more hungry for what’s ahead.
“It builds up your confidence that you can succeed at that level, and makes me hungrier for more games and opportunities at first-grade.”