When Zac Lomax fractured his wrist in a boxing training accident in May, he feared his chances of playing finals football in 2018 were over.
Now having worked his way back to fitness and toiled away in the NSW Cup until his opportunity came, the 18-year-old is preparing to line up opposite his idol after playing the best game of his fledgling career a week ago.
The change in circumstances comes as a surprise to Lomax, but it’s an opportunity he’s relishing.
“To be honest I didn’t [think I’d be in this position], but I hoped that it would come,” Lomax said. “I guess you’ve just got to go back to training, work hard and do what you get told to do at training and just be around the boys and just be as positive as you can at training.”
The opportunity to return to the first-grade side only came after Euan Aitken injured his hamstring in the round 24 loss to the Bulldogs.
Aitken is expected to return this week and, with coach Paul McGregor keeping has cards close to his chest, Lomax is faced with the challenging task of not knowing what his role will be on Saturday night, if he is used at all.
But one thing Lomax does know is that childhood idol Greg Inglis will be ready and waiting for him.
“It just all comes down to preparation, you just stick to the same routine and just know what you have got to do, who you are coming up against and your role for the team.
“I am still unsure whether I will play, that is entirely up to Mary. If Euan plays, he showed what he can do against GI earlier in the season but I can do the job if I do get the nod.”
Where many 18-year-olds would be overawed playing in an NRL final at a packed Suncorp Stadium, Lomax looked at home on the Dragons right edge.
That came as no surprise to his St Geoge Illawarra teammates.
While there has been plenty of hype surrounding the Illawarra junior, his fellow Dragons see the work he puts in at training and they have no doubts he has the talent to become a future star.
“Everyone’s seen it now,” fullback Matt Dufty said. “He’s got talent and skill, he’s going to have a long future in the game. He’s proved he can play NRL in the last couple of weeks he’s played.”
The uncertainty surrounding Aitken has a flow-on to the remainder of the backline, with Nene Macdonald unsure who his right-edge partner will be.
After shifting from the left wing to the right, Macdonald has partnered with both players in recent weeks. The two have very different styles of play but Macdonald is confident whoever McGregor picks will thrive.
“They’re two completely different styles of players,” Macdonald said.
“Euan loves to run the ball at full speed and hit the line hard. Zac’s got good footwork, he’s tough to stop near the line and can get outside you or inside you. They’re two different styles, but two good players.
“Whoever plays has got a big job this week. GI’s in good form and it’s finals time, it’ll be an exciting challenge for us.”