Tough young Wests Tigers prop Matt Groat will long remember his big day out at WIN Jubilee Oval last Sunday.
The former Australian Schoolboy woke on match morning knowing he would soon be colliding into his flat-mate in St George-Illawarra Dragons back-rower Michael Bullock. He had prepared all week for the clash with his good friend.
Groat also knew he was to the 18th man for the Wests Tigers NRL side after having two training sessions with the elite squad in the lead up to Sunday.
Upon arriving at the ground, it was business as usual for Groat. The 19-year-old turned in another strong and aggressive performance in the U20s win over the Dragons, running over 100 metres with the ball and making 17 tackles in his 55 minute stint.
With his U20s team-mates cooling down, Groat joined the Wests Tigers NRL side for the pre-match warm up. Little did he know what was about to unfold.
Full-back Wade McKinnon suffered a hamstring strain, leaving Head Coach Tim Sheens looking for an urgent replacement. And to the surprise of many, Sheens promoted Groat, giving Wests Tigers four forwards on the interchange bench against the reigning premiers.
For 74 minutes, Groat sat nervously before taking to the field for his NRL debut. It made him the 144th player to pull on the Wests Tigers jersey.
"When Wade went down, I thought Tim was going to look for an outside back but because Matt trained with the NRL boys last Thursday and Saturday, and had lunch with them, it meant he was familiar with the side,‘’ explained Grant Jones, Wests Tigers U20s Coach and Assistant NRL Coach.
"To be thrown in against the premiers, Tim obviously was very confident that he had a good kid there in Matt. Tim has been watching Matt since he was 16 playing Harold Matthews for Western Suburbs.
“Tim had Matt earmarked as an NRL player from the first time the club signed him. His first grade debut just came a little earlier than expected.”
Groat thought his day was finished at full-time but there was one more task awaiting him inside the Wests Tigers dressing room - meeting NSW Premier and proud Wests Tigers Member Barry O’Farrell for the first time
Just like he did on the field, Groat took it all in his stride.
Source: Wests Tigers (by Wayne Cousins)