MAX Bailey could well have been playing for Thirroul against Western Rams in Orange on Saturday night. Had things gone just slightly different, he could just as easily have been playing against the Butchers in their Presidents Cup clash with the Bears at North Sydney last week.
For the 23-year-old, both appeared more likely than the NRL debut he made for the Roosters at WIN Stadium on Thursday night - with a chunk of the Butchers faithful there to watch.
"About six or seven weeks ago I was planning on playing for the Butchers in the local comp, for free," Bailey said.
"Then the Bears started up and I was going to play for them [in the Presidents Cup] for free. I did a week of training there and next thing Robbo calls me and brings me up to the [NRL] squad on a train and trial [contract].
"I always thought this year, with the way the season's gone, he wasn't going to bring in a train and trial player for no reason. I always thought the opportunity would come, I definitely didn't think it'd be this soon.
"I was in the 21 on Tuesday and it was only [Wednesday] that Robbo told me Jared [Waerea-Hargreaves] wasn't playing and I was taking his spot on the bench.
"I thought 'it'll be a long day tomorrow, we don't play till 7.50' but it went pretty quickly. I felt ready to go and it was really enjoyable, a dream come true."
It was a reward his persistence in coming through the semi-professional ranks after featuring sporadically in the Dragons under 20s set-up.
The Butchers junior credits time at Gibson Park for setting him the path to an NRL start that ultimately came via the North Sydney Canterbury Cup squad under Jason Taylor.
"I wasn't one of those blokes who went straight through the 20s and into grade, I actually struggled a bit in 20s," Bailey said.
"I think the biggest thing for my career was not playing much 20s and playing against men in first grade for the Butchers. I really think that got me used to that style of footy, really tough and against blokes who've played a lot of footy.
"I was only 18 playing grade and I think that helped me develop a lot and take it into my first two years of [Canterbury] Cup. I still struggled a bit with my development my first year in 2018 but last year I really flourished under JT.
"That's when I realised I could play NRL, before that I was sort of just plugging along and seeing how I went. After last season it really became a reality for me and getting rewarded with a preseason with the Chooks, that really lit the flame for me.
"I only got the call-up to the squad a few weeks ago and here I am playing NRL, it's pretty surreal."
It certainly couldn't have been scripted better in making his debut in Wollongong, though he admittedly over-extended himself in the lead-up.
"I had 40 tickets so it was a bit of a scramble, I actually got a bit excited and over-invited a few," he said.
"I had to message a few people and say sorry because I didn't leave enough for my family. To have everyone there and debut here at WIN Stadium, to have all my family friends over there in that corner, you couldn't write it any better.
"This definitely isn't it for me, I want to keep going and I want to keep playing but, at the moment I'm just embracing my debut. I'm stoked with it, I'm happy where I'm at, I'm going to keep training hard and hopefully get a few more games."
Trent Robinson said that remains a distinct possibility as he looks to manage a difficult stretch of the season that saw him without nine of top-line stars on Thursday.
"Max Bailey's a guy who's a part-time player toiling away and when the NRL guys go back to reserve grade, Max is the one saying 'okay I'll look after you'," Robinson said.
"Most guys are saying 'can you help us here?', Max is saying 'it's all right, I'll stand and deliver'. He's been doing that for years and it's awesome to get that opportunity to see a guy dream about one game, he wants to play one game.
"He won't stop there, but that's the dream of those guys, and to offer that up is awesome."