The final year of school is a watershed year in any young person's life. For Nick Murray it was also a watershed year in his rugby journey.
After playing thirds and fourths, and even a bit of sixths in Year 11, the Gunnedah product catapulted his way not only into the St Joseph's College Hunters Hill 1st XV but went on to represent the AAGPS (Athletic Association of Great Public Schools) and then Combined States at the Australian Schools Rugby Championships.
"I just sort of trained hard and tried to see where that would take me and it ended up all working out well," Murray said.
"I was just really determined at the end of my Year 11 year to push into that side."
The recently turned 21-year old hasn't looked back since.
After plying his trade with Gordon in the Sydney colts competition in 2019 and 2020, the half-back made the move north for this season, linking up with the Hunter Wildfires.
"At the end of 2020 I was weighing up my options," Murray said.
"After talking to the [Wildfires] head coach Scott Coleman, he mentioned a few things to me and sort of laid out what my pathway would look like and what he could do to develop me in order to progress to Shute Shield and then from Shute Shield to whatever higher honours I wish to push for."
"The whole pathway that he set out and the whole set-up just looked better than the options I had at the time."
"Not that Gordon isn't a good club, Gordon's an awesome club, but the opportunities that were on offer for me at Gordon were limited.
The decision paid off with Murray, who is also studying construction project management at Newcastle Uni, making his run-on debut against Manly in June and seeing some good minutes off the bench over the season.
"Certainly one of my goals was to get some time in Shute Shield, but I don't think I expected to get as much time as I did and it was awesome," he said.
"Each game I was getting better and better."
He recently resigned with the club for next season.
"I was always going to return, just because it's such a good opportunity," he said.
Rugby has long been a big part of the picture for Murray.
Even when he was running around for the Red Devils juniors his ambition was to take his rugby "as far as I could".
That was only amplified exposed to the strong rugby culture at Joey's (he started there in Year 9) and was amplified further again when he made the Combined States team.
One of the biggest obstacles he has had to overcome is the perception that he is too small. Some have questioned his ability to make it because of his size.
It's something he has been dealing with most of his life. As he reflected he was always the smallest in his class, smallest in his team.
Before his run-on debut, Murray told the Newcastle Herald he considered trying to bulk up his 172cm, 69kg frame.
"But I have been told that my best asset is my speed. I didn't want to take away more than I gained," he said.
"I am never going to be the biggest bloke on the field, so there is no point spending all my time trying to get big and end up slowing down."
It's balancing act, between getting to a weight that allows him to make the tackles he needs to and prevent injuries, and doesn't detract from his speed and agility.
The Wildfires are set to start onfield training on November 1. Murray can't wait for that after what has been a pretty lone slog for the past few months.
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