‘I knew he was tough enough to handle it’
Craig Wallace reckons his son was eight years old when he turned to him for the first time and said, “Dad, I want to play Origin one day”.
It's a line that any footy-mad kid raised in NSW or Queensland has uttered at some time and Craig, a legend of bush footy, treated it like any father would.
"At that age you don't even think about it. He says he wants to play Origin and he wants to play footy," Craig tells NRL.com.
Jarrod was a week old when he was in the sheds with his Dad for the first time at the footy and after receiving a 'not guilty' verdict from the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night is free to make his Origin debut for Queensland on Wednesday.
As soon as he was old enough Craig debuted Jarrod for the Sawtell Panthers in the Group 2 competition against fierce local rivals, the Coffs Harbour Comets.
Ready for rough stuff
The home grounds of the two teams share the same road only 3km apart yet despite the criticism he received for exposing his son to the raw aggression that permeates bush footy Craig knew he was up to it.
"It was the week that he hit 16 and nine months," Craig recalls. "We had quite a few injuries and the opportunity came and we debuted him.
"It was a local derby down there against the Comets and I got criticised a bit but he went out there and absolutely killed it and actually got the players' player award that day.
"Being the captain-coach of a side you're always a target. We played a semi-final that year where they were into him, saying, 'Here's Wallace, here's junior Wallace, rip into him' but I knew he was tough enough to handle it otherwise you wouldn't put him in."
That teenage toughness now gets its biggest test with Wallace facing a ferociously parochial NSW crowd at ANZ Stadium that will put the Comets diehards at Advocate Park to shame.
For weeks the question has been asked of Wallace of whether he is ready for everything that Origin can throw at him but he says he has been a target ever since he started playing against men in the middle of the field where there is no place to hide.
"He always said that he'd never play me if I wasn't ready. But it had come to a time where we obviously needed a couple of players due to injuries. I'd trained and was in good form playing Under 18s so he gave me a crack and I enjoyed it," Jarrod said.
"He would never have played me or started me if he didn't know I was ready for it. Him being the coach always put a bit of a target on his head and then being his son I got a bit of a target on mine as well.
‘I learnt everything from him’
"He was always harder on me than anyone else, especially coming up in those later years when I was playing with him because he knew what I was capable of.
"He was always harder on me and showed me a bit more tough love than maybe he would show someone else but he knew I was either better where I'd stuffed up or he was trying to help me.
"I remember one day playing first grade with him for Sawtell and I remember hitting someone and they dropped the ball. Everyone was cheering around me and his congratulations was a big smack in the back of the head saying, 'Good boy.'
"That was the kind of love that I got from him when I was playing.
"I learnt everything from him and if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be here."
Wallace Snr only stopped playing last year at the age of 44 when he completed the triumvirate of playing first grade with his three boys, Cooper demanding that he play on so he could achieve the same feat that Jarrod and Logan had done before him.
Forced to play up two age groups because parents would complain that he was tackling his own teammates too hard at training, Jarrod would join his dad's first-grade training session after finishing with his own team, further accelerating a rugby league education that began at birth.
"It was the influence of him and my uncles that got me into rugby league," Jarrod says.
"Growing up and watching them from the age of four years old was the reason why I started playing in the first place.
‘I never really thought about anything else’
"I used to train with my side and then when he'd be training at 6.30 with first grade I'd go and train with them as well. When they were doing captain's run I'd be the fullback for the other team and catch the ball and run it back at them.
"Footy's pretty much been my life since I was born. Coming out of school I never really thought about anything else other than footy and I pretty much put that down to Dad."
Reward for effort
Adds Craig: "I told him that it all comes down to the right attitude and that's what he's applied to himself.
"He's always wanted to be a high achiever and the hard work's paying off.
"It wasn't an easy road for him or us at all but he's certainly done the work to get to where he is today."