At just 18 years of age, Laurie Spina was named the North Queensland Player of the Year during his inaugural year playing first grade.
At the same time North Sydney was looking for a half back and Spina's outstanding debut year led to a contract with the Bears.
Two years with Norths, five years with Easts and a season with Cronulla and Spina was ready to return home.
Spina settled back onto the family cane farm east of Ingham and took on the role of captain-coach of Ingham Brothers for four years, winning three premierships.
At the end of last year Spina received the Townsville Rugby League's best and fairest medal and a contract with the XXXX Cowboys.
At the age of 31 many people told Spina he had only been signed to lead the XXXX Cowboys young reserve grade side.
"I never wanted to sign to play reserve grade," Spina said. "If I didn't feel good enough in myself to make first grade I wouldn't have played there."
As things turned out injuries to the early season halfback and captain Jason Martin provided an opening in firsts for Spina.
"It's been a bit of responsibility, but I like it," Spina said. "It's been a big honour. Most of the fellas are young and really enjoying it."
"After four years out of the top grade many people thought I couldn't make it.
"It is pretty satisfying to be playing.
"Being a captain-coach has helped me read the game and understand things about the game.
"I am able to work on the farm and still able to represent North Queensland as I always wanted to do.Laurie Spina
Now Spina's Ingham relatives and friends can watch him play at home games, but for Spina three hours travel each training and playing day present a major, but necessary sacrifice.
"It's probably hardest on my wife and kids. I don't see them that much," Spina said.
"When we travel away we leave Saturday and get home late Sunday."
When Spina was given the opportunity to return to rugby league it wasn't only his wife and children he had to consider.
Laurie works the Spina's 25,000 tonne cane farm along with his brother Michael and father Joe.
Before agreeing to join the Cowboys he talked with his extended family about the decision.
"They supported me and thought it was a really good opportunity," Spina said.
"You don't get too many chances and if I'd turned my back on it I'd never be able to do it again."
"I spend a lot more time with football now and it puts a bit more pressure on the others on the farm.
"We decided to do it together. I work in the mornings and come here to train in the afternoons. On my days off (from training) I work all day."
One of the real highs for Spina has been playing in front of more than 23,000 parochial North Queenslanders at Stockland Stadium.
"I have played in front of 40,000 people but it is nothing like playing in front of the home crowd of the first North Queensland side," he said.
"The North Queensland people certainly come out of the woodwork to support their footy."
One of the good things about the second chance for Spina is it gives his children an opportunity to see him play.
"When I was in Sydney my sons were younger," Spina said.
"Now they enjoy coming to the games and plenty of the kids at school know their dad plays football.
"I think there are so many good young players up here.
"It's always been a very good breeding ground for rugby league and in the future North Queensland will become a very strong force (in the Winfield Cup).
"It is going to take a bit of time to develop and maintain our first graders.
"While it's going to take time, we are definitely on the right track."
Spina has seen many changes during his years with the game. The amount of training has increased, particularly strength and speed wise, but it hasn't bothered Spina.
"I have always kept fit and I am used to doing physical hard work," he said. "I think the vigorous, hard training would be more difficult for someone who works in an office all day."
And what of the future for this Ingham cane farmer and XXXX Cowboy.
"Every year I have played rugby league since I was 18 I have signed one year contracts," Spina said. "I have always taken it one year at a time."
"I am now 31 and I am not going to sign five year deals."
This article first appeared in issue 2 of the 1995 'Cowboys Round Up' magazine.