Adam Blair's NRL career was almost over before it began.
Blair will make his 300th first grade appearance on Friday night against the Titans in Robina, becoming only the third New Zealander, after Ruben Wiki (312 matches) and Simon Mannering (301), to achieve the milestone.
It's an impressive achievement — only 35 players across NRL history have managed it — forged across 14 seasons and four clubs.
It's even more remarkable given Blair's early days at the Storm, where he struggled to settle on and off the field.
Blair, who played 1st XV rugby at Whangarei Boys' High School after growing up in the remote Far North, had been spotted by the Melbourne franchise after touring Australia with a regional league selection, and offered a scholarship.
"I had no family or friends there but both my grandfather and Mum wanted me give it a go and see how I went," Blair told the Herald . "To get out of Whangarei to see what's out there."
It wasn't easy. Blair completed his schooling in Brisbane, then played for Norths Devils, with pre-seasons in Melbourne.
"The move was very hard, as a kid," says Blair. "The first three months — like it would be for any 16-year-old — was probably the toughest time I have gone through. I had no friends and my family was away from me, I was living in a house with a family that were looking after a lot of other boys."
Blair progressed well on the field, but had some rough edges. He was still a teenager, in a new city, and earned the ire of famously tough Storm coach Craig Bellamy during his second full pre-season in late 2004.
"When he was first at Melbourne, he almost didn't get started there," recalled Warriors coach Stephen Kearney. "It [was] him, Sam Tagataese, Sika Manu and they were playing up. I don't know if it was something major, but Bellyache (Bellamy) told me I needed to go and have a talk to them, otherwise they were going to get sent home.
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"I was the assistant coach there and he said to me; 'You better go and talk to those kids, otherwise they will be on the next plane home'. I'm not completely sure what the situation was, but he wasn't happy."
Blair was at a crossroads.
"I was mucking around, enjoying myself away from football," he admitted. "Taking shortcuts, getting away with things. I got a boot in the bum from the staff, who told me 'if you keep doing those things you won't be a first grader here'. I had forgotten what my purpose was and decided to give it one good crack."
Blair heeded the warning, knuckled down and was soon making the right impressions. He made his debut on April 2, 2006, a few days after his 20th birthday.
It was heady stuff; the Storm team included Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Greg Inglis as well as fellow Kiwis David Kidwell and Jeremy Smith and they were taking on the reigning premiers, with Benji Marshall and Scott Prince at the Wests Tigers.
"I was nervous without a doubt," said Blair. "But the first one always sticks in your mind and you never forget it. I can vividly see the game, my mum, my uncles, my family all cheering me on, at a packed out Leichhardt Oval."
The game was a 12-try thriller, with the Tigers withstanding a late comeback to win 30-28.
His NRL journey had began, one that seemed so unlikely as he was growing up as the eldest of eight siblings on a farm in Panguru, a tiny community in the northern Hokianga Harbour region.
Blair's 299-game career has had notable peaks and troughs. He was a star at the Storm, prominent in three grand finals, particularly in 2009. His three years at the Tigers was a difficult time as a marquee buy in a struggling team.
"I did it pretty tough, as the big signing that they portrayed me to be," said Blair. "At the start I ignored it a lot but it become an every day thing."
Blair lost his Kiwis berth for a time — missing the 2013 World Cup — but rebounded at Brisbane under Wayne Bennett, taking the Broncos to within one tackle of the 2015 premiership.
"He (Blair) took a lot of the Polynesian and Māori boys under his wing there, gave them a real example," said Kearney.
His first year at the Warriors was memorable, as they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and Blair provided leadership among the forwards unit.
"You can see he is a leader through his example, particularly in the gym and on the training paddock, the way he competes," said Kearney. "That's the reason I was keen to get him here, he helps people around him."
This season has been a lot more testing. He has struggled for form, and last month was dropped to reserve grade for the first time in more than a decade.
But he has since rebounded, and hopes to hit the heights again in the twilight of his career.
"I've been in similar situations before," said Blair, who was also part of the Kiwis' 2008 World Cup triumph, and Four Nations tournament wins in 2010 and 2014. "It's about trusting in my ability, backing myself and believing what I can do and give to the team."