Daly Cherry-Evans has revealed Queensland's modern greats once boasted footy smarts so far beyond him that strategic conversations would "go straight over my head".
As the Manly captain tries to tie down the Maroons No.7 jersey for the rest of his career, he frankly conceded he was not prepared for the level of attention to detail required from the Maroons and Kangaroos when he broke into the national side at the end of 2011 and two years later at state level.
His representative purgatory finally ended last season as he returned to the Origin arena and Kangaroos colours for the first time since 2015 and '13 respectively.
For so much of that period reports emerged that questioned his relationship with champion playmakers Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, suggesting Cherry-Evans couldn't gel with Queensland's best on or off the field.
Rep football is well and truly on the back-burner given the Sea Eagles' stumble out of the blocks this year, although Cherry-Evans was one of the team's best as they notched a confidence-boosting win over the Warriors in Christchurch on Saturday.
The 30-year-old was also outstanding in his Queensland return last year, an 18-12 win with the halfback crossing for a decisive try at Suncorp Stadium.
He remains only a contender, no certainty, as Cronk's long-term representative successor.
But he is light years from the first chapter of his rep career, when football conversations with the Maroons spine would leave him genuinely baffled.
"It's no secret, I couldn't adapt to the style of football they wanted me to play," Cherry-Evans told NRL.com.
"When I came into those sides, I was so far behind them in my education of rugby league and how they saw the game. I just wasn't up to their level and I'm not afraid to say that.
"I was having conversations with some of the leaders in the camps early on, and I can still remember it going straight over my head. I had no idea what they were talking about.
"I'm not trying to make excuses for how things went, I just wasn't as educated as those guys were in terms of footy.
"I learned so much and to be fair it probably didn't sink in properly until a couple of years later. The penny finally has dropped now. Rugby league does make a lot more sense to me.
"I feel a lot more comfortable having those footy conversations around how the game's being played and structures that take place in footy."
On early season form Cherry-Evans will have his hands full retaining those rep jumpers with Michael Morgan a key contender for the Maroons scrumbase role.
Morgan recently went on record declaring "I'd love to play in the halves for Queensland" and was Thurston's early pick to claim the No.7 jersey after a star showing in round one.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters is making no guarantee to either man, while incumbent five-eighth Cameron Munster, Kalyn Ponga, Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford and Ash Taylor will all come into contention for halves and utility roles.
Cherry-Evans first debuted for Australia at age 22 after guiding Manly to the 2011 title in his rookie season.
After stalling on 11 Tests and six Origins prior to last year's recall, Cherry-Evans wants to be front and centre when rep footy rolls around for the rest of his career.
"I'm not naive enough to pretend there hasn't been plenty spoken about my rep career and why it ended and how it ended," he said.
"So to put a lot of that to bed last year was a really satisfying feeling for me.
"I'm going to try and play rep football for as long as I'm in the NRL of course. It's certainly the aspiration.
"I don't look at it as mine to lose at all. To be honest having experienced rep football at the start of my career, that's one thing I've learned since coming back into it. You take every game for what it's worth on its merits.
"I'll be very ambitious and want to be involved in every rep game played this season for Queensland and Australia. But I don't have a mortgage on any jersey by any means. I've got to earn that position each game.
"There's no regrets about my early rep career. I learned so much from those great players and hopefully over the next couple of years I can show what I've learned and potentially pass that on to the next generation."