A childhood zipping around Sunshine Coast hockey fields would seem an unlikely path to the Intrust Super Cup, yet it provided Jake Carl with the speed and vision to become a try-scoring sensation.
A police officer stationed in Bundaberg for the past two years, Carl was encouraged first by Brothers coach Mat Templeman and then former NRL player Nick Paterson to seek an opportunity to play at a higher level in 2017 and committed to join Jim Lenihan at the Burleigh Bears.
Queensland Police subsequently found him a position on the Gold Coast, but having come to the sport late – Carl has now got his sights set on pursuing his rugby league career as far as it will take him, including stepping up to the NRL.
The 24-year-old clearly remembers the first game of rugby league he ever played for the Caboolture Snakes under-18s – “I came off the bench and the first ball I got I dropped” – but was playing A Grade by the end of the year and has made a startling first impression on the Bears.
Called up just 24 hours before kick-off to make his debut against Ipswich in Round 16, Carl scored a hat-trick and has since gone on to score eight tries in his opening four games, last weekend equalling his personal best of scoring four tries in a single game.
A fullback in his two years at Brothers, Carl has adjusted to life on the wing easily and actually credits his background in hockey for being able to find his way to the try-line with such regularity.
“That definitely helps,” Carl said of the spatial awareness needed to play hockey. “Using that peripheral vision to evade players becomes a bit easier.
“Playing hockey, you've got to be fit, so I was fit and I was always pretty quick. When I put more size on, I ended up getting quicker which worked out well.”
When he took his first post with the police force in Bundaberg, Carl considered bringing his brief rugby league career to a close and then last year had a conversation with Paterson that made him see his potential in the game in a whole new light.
He gave me that confidence that I did have the talent and that if I really wanted to that I could do it.
“When I moved to Bundaberg I was going to give it away and focus on work, but I got talking to Mat Templeman at Brothers and they were a good bunch of blokes so I kept playing,” he said ahead of Saturday's clash with the Blackhawks at Pizzey Park.
“I was playing police footy in Melbourne and Newcastle and our coach Nick Paterson who played NRL for the Cowboys, Sharks and Manly talked to me about playing at a higher level.
“In March last year we were talking and he instilled a bit of confidence in me, saying that I did have the talent to go to a higher level, where at that time I didn't really think that I did have the talent or that it was possible to go that way.
“He gave me that confidence that I did have the talent and that if I really wanted to that I could do it.
“That's when it really planted the seed to get down south to somewhere where it was possible to play (Intrust Super) Cup.”
Burleigh proved to be the perfect fit and now that he has established himself in the team, Carl is not afraid to consider the possibility of stepping up another level again and into the NRL.
“If the opportunity came then I wouldn't say no,” he said.
“I know that I've got policing there for the rest of my life, I can only play footy until a certain age.
“The NRL is always a dream when you're a kid. Even though I didn't play junior footy, it is still always a dream that you watch on TV.
“Even now running around in Cup with the experience those guys have and when the NRL players get dropped back to play with us it's awesome to run around and play with them.
“I'll just keep putting one foot in front of the other and see where that takes me. If it does take me to the next level in the NRL then I'd take it with two hands and give it my best effort.”
Did you know?
To celebrate 'Old Boys Day' and the naming of the best Burleigh Bears team from 1967-1997, there are five games of footy at Pizzey Park this Saturday. The Bears take on Souths Logan in the FOGS Colts Challenge at 11.30am with the action continuing with three grades of Burleigh against Tugun in the Gold Coast Rugby League. The Bears' Intrust Super Cup clash with the Townsville Blackhawks will round out a massive day at 5.45pm. Now that's a super Saturday.
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.