Dream debut for Harawira-Narea
It was a conversation with Anthony Griffin that had the newest Panthers debutant Corey Harawira-Naera jumping up and down as soon as he left the coach's office earlier in the week.
Fresh after Griffin unleashed Viliame Kikau in Round 2, another Panthers prodigy took to the field to become the 568th player in the club's history with the New Zealand-born back-rower filling the void left by injured duo Bryce Cartwright and James Fisher-Harris.
The 21-year-old was informed on Thursday he would start against the Knights but not before being asked about the possibility of making his Telstra Premiership debut by Griffin 24-hours prior.
"He (Griffin) made me sleep on it Wednesday night and then Thursday morning I come in for captains run and he gave me the official word," Harawira-Naera told NRL.com.
"I was mentally prepared but couldn't have done it without the boys and the coaching staff.
"Once I left the room I was jumping up and down."
The game couldn't have gone much better for the Otaua Valley junior, who is known for his dominant hole running, sliced through the line leaving Knights five-eighth Brock Lamb behind before going over for a four-pointer in front of family and friends who travelled from far and wide for the occasion.
"That was everything everyone says it's going to be but I was just rapt with how the boys played, that made my job easier and the coach give me a good talk to get me ready," he said.
"Mum, Dad and my siblings were here and I had my grandma and aunty come from Melbourne and my brother flew down from Brisbane so I was glad I put in a good effort for them."
The man who delivered the pass for Harawira-Naera to go over in the 22nd minute was Nathan Cleary – another Panthers youngster showing maturity beyond his years and a teammate that Harawira-Naera is all too familiar with after a year spent together dominating the Holden Cup in 2015.
"You could say it was a little bit of a flashback from when we were playing," Harawira-Naera said.
"I know his tempo and the way he plays so I was used to having him on my side and he was talking to me all night which made my job a lot easier."
A severe cramp in the 60th minute cut short Harawira-Naera's stay on the field, however the rookie put it down to the pace of the game beginning to take its toll.
"The sniper got me out of nowhere and I tried to run it off but everyone was telling me to get off," he said.
"I've never had it happen like that before, normally I can jog it off, but obviously it's a big step up and quicker game."
After being let go by the Warriors at junior level, the move to the foot of the mountains has paid off for Harawira-Naera after a full season in the Intrust Super Premiership, but he credits a former teammate that is no longer with the club for the admiration throughout his journey so far.
"Elijah Taylor is from Northland, which is where I'm from, and everything about his work ethic I try and do my best to portray it.
"Even when he was here it was a good experience to go under his wing. He took [James] Fisher-Harris and I out when we first come over [from New Zealand] for dinners every two months and made sure everything was going smoothly.
"He's the kind of person you like to look up to and do the same.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity and I'm going to do my best to get another game, whether it's this week or a couple of months down the track, I'll be ready."
Meanwhile, Griffin said he was pleased with the overall performance of his side, who kept the Knights to nil, and spoke of Harawira-Naera's start in first grade.
"I was really happy for him, he got a late call-up on Thursday and he's been one of our unsung heroes in the under-20s and Intrust Super Premiership the last few years and works extremely hard on the training paddock," Griffin said.
"It was great to give him that opportunity and it was lovely to see him play well and enjoy a win like that tonight.
"We put out a lot of energy last week and come up with nothing on the scoreboard so it was important we bounced back tonight.
"Particularly in the first half, I thought we really built a good platform going into half-time.
"They're just working really hard for each other and today with some options we took with attack energy wise and attitude wise it was great to see we could back it up again tonight.
"You always love to see a zero scoreline and it's not easy to do at this level, but I thought we were a lot more effective in attack tonight the way we ran our sets tonight and the mentality to play a bit more direct that we didn’t have last week."
This article first appeared on NRL.com.