When rookie St George Illawarra prop Josh Kerr was called to coach Paul McGregor’s office after being involved in a training mishap that left star hooker Cameron McInnes with a suspected fractured ring finger, he feared the worst.
"I walked up to the room and Mary said, ‘sit down’. I was playing b-ball with the boys and that day Cam McInnes tried to tackle me and he compound dislocated his finger so I was thinking, ‘oh, shit’. My head was falling off already," Kerr said.
When McGregor congratulated him on making the Indigenous All Stars team as a replacement for Gold Coast captain Ryan James, he initially didn’t believe him.
Then the tears started as the 22-year-old forward realised he was about to fulfil a childhood dream of representing his culture, achieving the honour before he had played an NRL match.
That was last Friday and on Tuesday, as he prepared to address an assembly at Gwynneville Public School as part of St George Illawarra's pre-season community blitz, Kerr said he was still "going tingly just talking about it".
"This is such a big thing for the indigenous community and our families because it brings everyone together," he said. "I never thought that I would ever get the chance or opportunity. This is like a dream of mine, I just can’t believe this is happening."
A proud Ngugi, Noonuckle and Geopul man of the Quandamooka nation, Kerr understands the significance of the All Stars match to the Indigenous community after a recent trip home to Stradbroke Island.
Telling his family he had been selected in next Friday night’s match against New Zealand Maori at AAMI Park was the proudest moment of his career.
"I called up the old lady first and she was screaming and crying," Kerr said. "The old man was a bit more like, ‘it’s about bloody time’, but everyone was just so happy. All the women were in tears and dad was just loving it.
"To be able to represent my culture and tell the indigenous side of the family, just to message or call my nanas and tell them the news … they were just over the moon."
Despite being yet to make his Telstra Premiership debut, Kerr feels confident he will be up to the task in a side light on for forward depth after the loss of James, Manly second-rower Joel Thompson and Brisbane utility Jack Bird through injury.
"To not even have played NRL and then be called into something like this, it is a shock. I feel ready for it, I feel very confident,” he said.
"You have got all your mob out there and you just have your heart on your sleeve so I am looking forward to it.
"I don’t know what else could top it. Maybe only one day to play for Australia. That is a dream of mine too."
All the women were in tears and dad was just loving it.Josh Kerr on telling his family
After playing for the Queensland Murri Under 16s against a NSW Koori team in a curtain-raiser to the 2012 All Stars match on the Gold Coast, he knows what to expect and he has met most of his teammates during last year’s Indigenous leadership camp at Redfern.
"What these games do for cultures, it is something so special. That is why I love rugby league," he said.
"I have gone to a few games when I was younger and that’s when you see the crowd and how passionate they are. There was nothing but smiles on people’s faces. It is the oldest surviving culture in the world so we have got to keep that going."
As for McInnes, he has recovered and is back in training.
"He showed us his finger and it was just white but he is like Wolverine," Kerr said. "I can’t believe how quickly he healed. He is very, very tough."