A year ago Storm centre Brenko Lee was without a contract and thinking of quitting the game after a short-lived dalliance with the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby.
Now the 24-year-old is on the cusp of a maiden NRL grand final appearance after shining in a series of challenges put to him by coach Craig Bellamy when he arrived at the club in pre-season on a wing and a prayer.
Lee has since tied down the hotly contested right centre position for the Storm and will play in Friday night’s preliminary final against the Raiders with his confidence sky high.
At the end of 2019 Lee left the Titans with his career in free fall and prepared to leave the life of a professional footballer far earlier than he had planned, after the Souths-Logan junior had promised so much after making his debut at the Raiders as a teenage prodigy.
Match: Storm v Raiders
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
"This time last year I had no deal. I was in limbo," Lee told NRL.com.
"I actually went to the Melbourne Rebels for two-and-a-bit weeks but I couldn’t understand the sport of rugby.
"So I went back to Logan and just chucked it in. I started to get scared because I thought I was going to have to work nine to five.
"I am only 24 and I couldn’t believe it had happened so quick, after I debuted at Canberra as an 18-year-old, so I had some tough nights tossing and turning wondering what I was going to do."
Get Caught Up: Finals Week 2
After stints with the Raiders, Bulldogs and Titans he was preparing to play for Easts Tigers under coach Craig Hodges in the Intrust Super Cup before the Storm came through.
"The ex-Titans coach who is now at the Warriors, Craig Hodges, he gave me a call and convinced me to come to Easts,” Lee said.
"I had literally not unpacked my bag. I had left it at home, and the next day I went to Easts and signed. Then he said, 'I am going to fly you to Melbourne'.
"The next day I flew to Melbourne. I met with Bellyache [Craig Bellamy] and had a good one-on-one chat with him the second day I was there.
"He said 'show me how hard you want to work because I want to keep you on, but remember there are no easy options and you have to earn it'."
Lee did not realise at the time that the Storm had been doing some background checks on his training ethic with Hodges, who after leaving the Titans as interim head coach was then with Melbourne affiliate club Easts.
Lee scores when Raiders fail to nullify kick
On a train-and-trial contract initially, Lee took Bellamy’s early advice on board. The coach gave him a challenge, and Lee proved he was consistently living up to their high standards and secured a two-year NRL deal.
"Craig challenged me, not physically but mentally," Lee said.
"He doesn’t ask you to do things that are impossible to do.
"He challenged me to compete on every play and to have energy and to keep talking when I am tired.
"Every two weeks he would challenge me, but I ticked all the boxes and he rewarded me with a debut early in the season.
"To get that debut jersey felt special to me because I really earned it.
"That is something Bellyache is good at, putting confidence in you when you start doubting yourself. Now I am one game away from a grand final after I had never played finals footy until last week."
The first item on Lee’s agenda is winning the next two games for the Storm, but the Maroons have a shortage of outside backs and when asked about the prospect of a State of Origin debut, his response was from the heart.
"You wouldn’t dream about those things," he said. "To play for Queensland would be a dream come true."
Then there were four …