The freak training accident which prematurely ended the career of Rory Kostjasyn is well known but his story has only been partly told.
While he started his first-grade career with the Melbourne Storm in 2010, the Central Coast product could've been one who of the many players who slip through the cracks.
Predominantly a half in his junior days, Kostjasyn moved to Sydney with a couple of friends at the age of 18 after earning a deal.
But like everything in his career, he did it the hard way.
"A few people said I should go down and open trial for the Roosters SG Ball. I played the invitational trial, then got a training trial and earned a spot and a Jersey Flegg contract which led to another contract and a fulltime contract," the 31-year-old told the Our Town Our Team podcast.
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A Sydney Roosters fan growing up, Kostjasyn was rubbing shoulders at the junior level with some players who would go on to carve out extraordinary careers.
Mitchell Pearce was one of them.
The current Newcastle skipper was a baby-faced teen with a wealth of potential.
"I'm pretty sure Junior's first year of Jersey Flegg at the Roosters was my first year although he was only 17, everybody knew how good a player he was and how good he was going to be," he said.
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"The next year or the year after he debuted. He's now played Origin and is a premiership winner."
While Pearce's career took off in Bondi, Kostjasyn, who went full-time in 2008 under his favourite player Brad Fittler, had stalled.
He thought the dream was over.
Unsigned, he was set to turn 22 that year and had planned on backpacking around Europe until Melbourne presented him with an opportunity.
"I probably made my path the hard way," he said.
"My first year fulltime, I didn't have the best year. I didn't debut and didn't get re-signed.
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"At the time, Melbourne had their feeder club on the Central Coast. I got a call shortly after the (2008) season from someone at Melbourne saying they'd like me to play for the feeder club. They said we'll keep an eye on you and if you go well, we'll give you a train and trial leading into the 2010 season."
Having impressed, he was invited down to train and trial.
Even after the invitation, Kostjasyn was sceptical on whether he was going to make the cut but he soldiered on.
After he completed an infamous Storm pre-season, the versatile player earned the respect of Craig Bellamy and a full-time deal.
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"There's no GST added to those stories, I can tell you," he said.
"The first year I went down, they'd won the comp in 2009.
"That first five weeks was by far the hardest training I've ever done in my life. Every session was hard.
"Then you have your camp. It was a bit more old school then too.
"The next year they made a few changes because the load was severe."
During his time with the Storm, Kostjasyn completed three pre-seasons but it was after his first that he became a genuine contender for first-grade.
After inking a one-year-deal, he was included in the Storm's World Club Challenge squad and this was where he got his first shot in the big time.
"Cooper (Cronk) had an operation and wasn't fit for the World Club," he explained.
"My role was to defend well and not mess up which I kind of did. I didn't play too well that game."
But still, he did well enough to be selected in Round 1 of the 2010 season.
Despite playing 32 first grade games for the Storm, Kostjasyn never felt like he'd arrived as a regular NRL player.
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"I always felt I was one step away from park footy," he said.
"Pretty much for my whole career, every week I was still hoping I was in the team, irrespective of if I'd played well or poorly which isn't an ideal mindset to have.
"That's how it was for me just because of the circumstance of how I'd earned a career. It had some advantages because I was never complacent, but it also restricts you in certain ways."
The utility was 18th man for the 2012 grand final before moving to the North Queensland in 2013.
It was during his four seasons at the Cowboys he started to feel stability as a player, more specifically at the back-end of 2014.
Strangely it was their premiership season in 2016 that his confidence took a dip and almost saw him miss the grand final.
He played the final 12 games of the season but was dropped from the first final.
Paul Green opted to play Ray Thompson on the bench ahead of Kostjasyn, with Michael Morgan under an injury cloud.
"I didn't play the first final in Brisbane against the Broncs," he said.
"Green wanted to put Ray on the bench because he thought Ray was more like-for-like which I was shattered to hear. Probably the hardest news I'd heard through my career until I broke my throat."
While he feared he wouldn't get another chance, he returned to the side the following week.
He played off the bench.
A golden-point victory saw a premiership ring on his finger before leaving for the Newcastle Knights having signed a two-year-deal.
"I always wanted to play for the Knights," he said.
"I would've loved to play my whole career for the Knights because it's close to home. I love Newcastle and this lifestyle.
"I was stoked to be coming here."
Having returned to the Central Coast, Kostjasyn was commuting to Newcastle for training when he copped a whack to the throat after the Christmas break.
While he tried to return, a reduced airway made it difficult to breathe.
He still has trouble with it now.
While it's vastly improved on what it once was, a straining of his voice and limited supply of oxygen has come with life adjustments.
A visit to a busy café or loud pub means he'll sit in silence with his voice not strong enough to overcome the noise.
He's also reminded of the change on game days too.
Having taken the reins as coach of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side, Kostjasyn can't walk and talk when taking stairs.
"At the stadium, instead of taking the lift up to the coach's box, if we walk quickly up the stairs I can't talk. I can't get my sentences out the whole way because I can't breathe well enough.
"That's why I don't play anymore. It's not because if I get hit again, it's because I can't breathe well enough to get my aerobic capacity up to a level where I can play rugby league.
"I couldn't play touch footy for fun at the moment. If I join in training sessions with the 16s or reserve grade, I have to do it in a way where I'm not going to talk to them about any coaching after because it takes me too long to settle my breathing down to be able to speak."
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