Kangaroos forward Reuben Cotter had three goals this year: an Origin debut, a Cowboys finals campaign and a green and gold World Cup jersey.
While it seems like a lot to wish for, the 23-year-old was determined to make up for lost time and, following a breakout NRL season and a starring Maroons performance, Cotter’s final box was ticked when he made his Australian Test debut last week.
“At the end of last year, the club wasn’t going very well and we had a lot of room for improvement, so I sat down at the start of this year and wrote down a few goals,” Cotter told the media ahead of Kangaroos’ Round 3 match against Italy.
“Origin was one, making finals was another and pulling this jersey on was one as well.
“The whole year has been crazy, especially being my first finals campaign. Obviously, we (Cowboys) didn’t go as far as we wanted to but this year has been amazing for many reasons and I’m enjoying every bit of it.”
With injuries, including back-to-back ACL tears, consistently putting his career on hold, the Mackay junior is no stranger to the rehab room but said internal goals are what kept him on track to fulfil a rugby league bucket list most NRL players could only dream of.
Wrecking ball Reuben
“I was pretty young back then… but I always knew I wanted to play NRL, it was just about doing all that hard work and getting back into it,” he said.
“I just gave myself small goals of running and all that little stuff and just chipped away at them.
“You become resilient when you have a few setbacks so I kept persisting with it and tried to keep chipping away at my small goals."
Match Highlights: Australia v Fiji
It was far from a dream debut for the North Queensland lock who suffered a head knock found during the second half of the Kangaroos' Round 1 win over Fiji after a head clash with Tui Kamikamica.
But after resting last week and passing HIA protocols ahead of Australia's final pool game against Italy, the versatile forward has returned to training in Manchester, determined to make his family proud as they set to join him in England.
"Obviously I would have liked to stay on the field a bit longer but a head knock is one of those things that you can’t help, they just happen sometimes," he said.
"I’m feeling good now and I didn’t really have many symptoms after it so that was a positive sign. I’ve passed my cognigram so I’ll be back into training tomorrow.
“Mum is a big footy fan, she’s probably my biggest fan. Dad’s a big fan as well. As soon as they found out about my selection they were booking flights and accommodation.
“They were with me when I had a few needles with my knee injuries and for my family and my partner to be coming over to share this with me now is really special.”
Cotter also attributed his Kangaroos debut to Cowboys strength and conditioning coach Ash Graham who has supported the young forward throughout his time on the sideline.
Graham, also a former Cowboys player, had the same strength and conditioning role with the under 20s when Cotter ruptured his ACL twice as teenager and missed most of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons.
“Ash was big for me and has been there ever since I turned up to the cowboys,” he said.
“He helped me a lot and is probably the reason why I’m here.
"This year was just a matter of working hard. We didn’t reap the awards we wanted last year and this year’s pre-season was the hardest one I’ve ever been a part of but I think the coaching staff and my teammates are probably the reason I’m here now.”
Match: Australia v Italy
Round 3 -
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helen's