You just keep digging for the boys beside you. We've all been embedded with that toughness.Geordie Brand Under 18s Maroons prop
WHEN I asked team manager Richard Duff to find me a young player with a bit of "character" from the Queensland Under 18s team to interview, he said he knew just the player.
Several seconds later, a tall, solid-set kid with a thick, full head of wavy flame-red hair walked into the room and introduced himself as "Geordie".
He sat down, I flicked on my tape recorder and 15 minutes later I knew why Duff had picked him from all the kids who were laughing and joking and in the foyer of the Queensland Rugby League's headquarters at Milton.
"So, Geordie," I started my interview, "they tell me you are a bit of a character, why would they say that?".
With a cheeky grin he quickly responded: "Maybe because I like to have a bit of fun with the boys. Even though this is serious, you need something to make you laugh at times."
Geordie Brand is spot on.
Joker like Langer
Most teams need that practical joker, a player who can get under his teammates' skin or play a prank, break the tension.
Every coach will tell you they are important to the team harmony and for easing the tension.
Allan Langer is the best team joker I have come across and the players love him for it even if, at times, they wanted to kill him.
Brand, a Sydney Roosters signing, admits he enjoys the role within the team but knows when to put away the jokes away and get down to business.
Born on the NSW south coast at Moruya, Brand's family shifted to Bermagui before finally settling in the Brisbane suburb of Logan when he was aged about four.
"Should I mention I was born in NSW?" he asks with another cheeky grin.
As a young kid, Brand played his early football for the Slacks Creek Lions and Ormeau Shearers.
"I made the Queensland Under 12s Invitational side which was my taste of representative football and my first introduction to the Queensland culture," he told QRL Media.
He and good friend Ethan Bullemor will carry much of the responsibility of taking their team forward against the Blues at the MCG on Wednesday night.
There will definitely be no fooling around once the battle begins.
"I like to think I am tough in the position I play.
"We get taught and we learn early on that no matter what happens to you in the game, you just keep digging for the boys beside you.
"We've all been embedded with that toughness."
If it can't be with his good mate Bullemor, Brand would love nothing more than to team up in the Queensland Origin front row in the future with fellow redhead Dylan Napa.
"I'd love to play alongside of him, he is a real character as well," he said.
Brand nominated tough-as-teak prop Shane Webcke as the player he most admired growing up watching Origin.
"I loved watching Shane Webcke, everything he did was about toughness.
"He played it tough, his carries were always tough and he was tough in defence, I loved everything about the guy."
Brand believes toughness is something he can contribute.
"I like to think I am tough in the position I play. You trust everyone in the team to be tough in what they do."
He said the young players definitely felt the pressure of wearing the maroon jumper and doing it proud.
"We definitely feel it, the adrenaline and the nerves before the big game," he said.
"I still remember playing for the Under 16s at ANZ Stadium in Sydney - it was the greatest experience I've ever had.
"Just before we kicked off Tanah (teammate Tanah Boyd) gave me a high five and said, 'It's time, we're here, let's do it'."
"I've got goosebumps now just thinking about it."
They lost by two points but it has only served to make them, and others who played in that match, hungrier to get a victory on Wednesday night.
If he could pick only one former Queensland Origin player to get advice from, it would be Webcke.
"I'd ask him what he said to himself when he got tired and things got really tough in a game because it would be a great insight for young players like me when things get tough on the field," he said.
"I haven't experienced that kind of pressure and it is something I think would help me a lot."
He believes he and Bullemor are under the same pressure to lay the platform for a win against NSW as Napa and Jarrod Wallace are in the Origin clash.
"It's the front-rowers job and the forwards job to set the platform because, without that, halves don't have the space to move and do their job.
"We've got two dangerous halves in Tom (Dearden) and Tanah but if we don't get the go-forward for them, then there is not really much they can do.
"If we give them some room they can do some special things."
Brand joked Boyd would quickly be on his case if he slackened off.
"Tanah and I are best mates but he is always ripping into me, making sure I am working hard."
Brand's proud parents, Alissa and Garry, whom he said had been the biggest influence on his life, plan to fly down for the Melbourne game.
"They have been supporting me all the way and it's great they will be at the game to see me play," he says in a serious moment.
Celebrate good times
His teammates know one thing if they win on Wednesday night - Brand will lead the celebrations.
"I am the worst singer and dancer in the team but I don't mind singing and dancing and lightening the mood," he laughed.