WHEN Dragons premiership-winner Nathan Fien first arrived in Wollongong, like a lot of people, he went surfing - only in his case it was couch surfing.
It's fair to say Jeremy Smith's couch was not where he expected to find himself, particularly so soon after being part one of the most famous boil-overs in rugby league history with New Zealand at the 2008 World Cup.
Ultimately, setting up camp in his Kiwi Test teammate's lounge room was a short but memorable chapter of a whirlwind two years en route to the ultimate prize for any player.
You certainly can't say he didn't pay his dues, first with the Cowboys on a long run to a maiden finals appearance in 2004, and then with the Warriors where became a Test player.
He donned the jumper 22 times but that 16-12 World Cup final win over a stacked Kangaroos side - featuring names like Slater, Thurston, Lockyer, Inglis, Smith - was undoubtedly the most memorable.
It came hot on the heels of an unlikely run to the 2008 finals with the Warriors. It saw them memorably beat Melbourne in Melbourne, the first time eighth had knocked off first in finals history.
They subsequently fell to eventual premiers Manly in the prelim, but it saw a huge chunk of the squad head into the Cup full of confidence.
"In the 2008 I was starting halfback for the Warriors and we went on a massive run into the finals," Fien recalls
"Ruben [Wiki] was approaching his 300th game and he had that big beard. We all just started growing the beards just to buy into Rubes 300th and it sort of galvanised the group.
"Obviously the Warriors, we could be pretty erratic, one week we could play like world beaters and then like wooden spooners a week later. For whatever reason it just clicked in that back end and my footy definitely benefited from that.
"At the halfway point we were 13th or 14th and I think we won seven of our last nine and snuck in the back door into eighth spot and then beat Melbourne down there in the first week of the finals.
"That momentum was great for my footy heading into the World Cup."
A World Cup winners medal in the bank and things seemed rosy, but it ultimately proved the beginning of a strange on again-off -again relationship with the Warriors.
"While that was going on there were all these rumours floating around that Stacey Jones was coming back [from Super League] the following year," Fien said.
"Ivan [Cleary] spoke to me and said 'look, Stacey's talking about linking back up with the club, if you find something for 2009 we won't stand in your way'.
"That was pre-World Cup and then when I got back Huddersfield were pretty keen. I was talking to Browny [Nathan Brown] about going over there and we were pretty close.
"I went back and advised the Warriors that I had a suitor over in England and then they ended up doing the back flip and said 'nah we can't let you go' but they still signed Stacey."
It meant reverting to a bench role before being punted altogether to reserve grade. It's where the relationship formed with Wayne Bennett during the Kiwis Cup campaign proved more than handy.
"When Stacey came on the scene I ended up playing park footy with the Vulcans," Fien said.
"To be on Mt Smart No. 2 a few months after winning a World Cup final was a pretty dramatic fall. Throughout the World Cup I was talking with Wayne about what was happening and we spoke about me coming to the Dragons.
"He said, 'look I can't do anything for 2009 but I can bring you over in 2010'. If it meant seeing out my last year with the Warriors I was happy because we loved it over there.
"We'd held it back because he didn't want it to affect where I was but, once I was playing reserve grade so there was no reason to hold it back. The Warriors weren't happy though.
"I was actually renovating our house over there and I literally finished the week before June 30. Wayne rang on the 29th of June and said 'I can't give you any money but I can get you over here'.
Not that it was that simple, the Warriors weren't keen on parting with any either.
"The Warriors said 'you can go but we're not paying you any money'," Fien said.
"We just finished the reno over there so things were pretty tight for six months. Because I had no money, [wife] Belinda and the kids they flew up to Cairns and stayed with her parents for the back end of 2009.
"I was just staying at Jeremy Smith's house living on his couch."
It was a small price to pay for a premiership and, after debuting with the club in round 18 of that season, it looked like that might be just where things were headed when the Dragons grabbed the minor premiership.
Then the wheels came off, largely courtesy of the Hayne Plane.
"After that rough 2008-09 period suddenly I was at a club where we were serious contenders, it was cellar to the penthouse type stuff," Fien recalls.
"My first game was at WIN Stadium against Manly and playing with all these guys felt awesome and I slotted straight in, we just couldn't go on with it, Jarryd Hayne was just on fire the back end of that year.
"That chokers tag was thrown around, I didn't feel it much being so new to the club but I definitely learned that, where the Cowboys Warriors we were both relatively new teams, when you pull on that red v there's an automatic pressure and expectation that goes with it.
"It put a bit of steel in the squad, you could feel it when we got back for preseason after being minor premiers and then going bang, bang out the back door."
There may have been some steel in the squad, but the 2010 season had barely begun when Fien had some steel in him - more specifically in his ankle.
"It was round one, I was playing OK and then 35 minutes or so into it I shot down a blindside and went close to scoring but I got chopped down and I knew straight away, it just went snap," he recalls
"It was the day my boy was born to so I was there in hospital in Wollongong with Bel in the morning and then off the to the game in the afternoon.
"I was in hospital in Sydney, Bel was still in hospital in Wollongong and I had a busted ankle and was trying to get back down there.
"I had to talk the doctor into doing the surgery, I think he was at a golf day the and was trying to talk me out of doing it that day but I talked him into getting the ankle back together."
Plenty thought that was the season done, with good reason given the extent of the injury, but he was determined to prove it wasn't - the Shellharbour Sharks the first beneficiary.
"It was head down, bum up stuff," he said.
"I'd only played a handful of games by then because I got there the back end of 2009 but I felt where I belonged. I didn't doubt myself and knew I could bring something to the squad if I was able to get back.
"When I was getting close the boys had a game in Brisbane round and Wayne gave me the option of going up there and doing the last bit of rehab or go and have a run with the [Shellharbour] Sharks'.
"I was keen to play so I went down on Wednesday night and had a training run with them. They were on a 16-game losing streak or something at the time and we went down to Melbourne who were top four and ended up rolling them.
"It was pretty cool to do that and then the next week I was back in the [first grade] squad."
His bench spark proved telling with the Dragons, having dropped three of their previous four ahead of his round-22 return, grabbing a 19-12 win over the Roosters.
They dropped just one game from there - the old Canberra hoodoo tripping them up in round 24 - on the way to a prelim final against old foe the Tigers.
The club's prelim final wobbles were well known, but Fien had his checkered past in grand final qualifiers, having lost them with both the Cowboys in 2004 and the Warriors four years later.
It made a 13-12 win over the Tigers, a Jamie Soward field goal sealing the deal, a breakthrough on the personal front as much as the club.
"What Wayne did say about grand finals finals was that getting there was always the hardest thing, winning the prelim," Fien said.
"I had some try assists through my career or whatever but that pass to Sowie for the field goal... your whole career comes down to that moment.
"Sowie will nail it but he needs that ball on the spot. I look back and it's probably the most important pass I've ever thrown because the pressure was huge.
"We knew if we got over the hump then we were going to win it. The pressure and everything else leading into that week was so different to the following week."
The rest is history, a 32-8 win and a breakthrough title for the joint-venture, Fien crossing for a try in the process.
It was just his 19th appearance for the club, but the journey to it was further proof that no two players walk the same path to the summit.
"When I passed that ball to Deano and that last try was awarded, that was the point I knew we'd done it," he said.
"It's a crazy feeling because you don't just think of the game, you think of the whole journey. It's all you want to achieve, the moment right there.
"I still get goosebumps talking about it now. Time flies, but it still feels like yesterday."