NRL GRAND FINAL
They opposed each other back then, of course. While Mitchell Pearce and Kieran Foran were long drawn to each other by a shared love of the game, they were - in their early years - quick to take opposing sides as they will do tomorrow.
In the front yard of Foran's home or down at the local park at St Ives, they would play each other ... and belt each other. The almost daily scrimmages would follow a script - low intensity to start off with followed by someone throwing a swinging arm at another's chin, followed by a decent scrap to finish it off.
Soon enough, the pair, along with Kieran's older brother Liam, would relish the physicality of their battles so much that they would ban side steps.
"Everyone was running like Martin Lang, straight up the guts," laughs Liam, in the same age as Pearce through school. "We all wanted to put on a really good hit, and bash each other."
Kieran is even more to the point. "We just used to bash the shit out of each other," he said. "And it'd always end in a fight, either me punching on with Liam or me punching on with Pearcey. We'd sulk and not talk to each other, and then do it again."
That Pearce, the Roosters halfback, and Foran, the Manly five-eighth, are best mates today, having fought so much back then, comes as no surprise to those who knew them.
Almost as predictable is the fact that the two fiercely competitive kids are now playing in a grand final. What is more of a surprise is that they will oppose each other again.
As kids, when they were not scrapping on the grass, they would be talking about playing first grade one day, and playing in a grand final together.
"It's probably gone a bit against the script," Kieran admitted this week. "As kids, we all talked about lining up in the same team in a grand final.
"Now to be playing against each other ... it's just surreal. Kicking the footy, and bashing each other on the front lawn, and all of a sudden we're doing it out there on the biggest stage."
As each looks to take a premiership off the other, it should be noted that they have in fact won a title together; in 2006, for Marist North Shore against Marist Kogarah.
Mitchell, who was convinced by the Foran brothers to ditch Barker College and its rugby union curriculum for their rugby league school in years 11 and 12, combined with Liam in the halves at Leichhardt Oval that day.
Pearce - a strong sprinter whose ability to pass the ball 20 metres left and right was the subject of chatter by schoolmates - was man-of-the-match, scoring two tries. But many others spoke of year 10 student Kieran, playing lock and showing a remarkable workrate and defensive technique.
Whoever loses tomorrow, it should also be remembered that they will have played a part in the victory.
"The hours that they spent practising their passing, their kicking, all their skills ... it's not a surprise to see they're so successful," said Wayne, the Balmain legend and father of Mitchell. "It would have been, literally, thousands of hours."
Over many years. The Foran boys, having moved to Sydney from New Zealand, quickly gravitated to Pearce, a fellow student at St Ives North Primary School.
"We were leaguies and it happened to be that we found out Wayne Pearce's son was here," Kieran recalls.
"In St Ives, they're all playing rugby or something like that. We just wanted to find another kid to kick the footy with. We thought he looked like a leaguie too, and he was. We hit it off straight away."
The three of them were, says Pearce, "always in each others' pockets". They would begin their days training together. Before school, they would go to the park to work on their respective kicking games or passing skills. Or they might run the hills. Could you imagine it? Primary school-aged children running hills, driving each other up to the peak, just as enthusiastically as they are now driving each other to the top of the NRL competition.
"I had two sisters, so I was always at their house," Pearce said. "We were always training together, playing footy together, playing sport together.
"Every day, we'd either go up to the park, or play front-yard footy. We used to train a lot, practise our skills a lot together. Everything about us was footy. We were always talking footy. We always dreamed of playing first grade one day. That's well and truly happened now. To be in this position, against each other, it's pretty special."
Even this week, the friendship was not on hold. Pearce text-messaged Foran immediately after the five-eighth's side beat South Sydney on Friday. Foran returned the favour after Pearce's Roosters beat Newcastle.
"I'm proud of everything he's done. He's turned out to be an outstanding player. He's always been such a tough kid. He's never had any fear. There's no surprise the way he throws his body on the line," Pearce said.
Foran will do so again on Sunday, probably when lining up Pearce - much to the mirth of many.