"Hectic, memorable and life-changing" is how Melbourne Storm talent Nicho Hynes sees the past few years of his life.
The 24-year-old developed his skills with Mackay Cutters in the Intrust Super Cup in 2017 and 2018 before being unstoppable for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in 2019, with six tries, four goals, 21 try assists and a hell of a lot of flair.
Hynes signed with Storm midway through 2019 and made his NRL debut donning the No.1 jersey in Round 21 against South Sydney Rabbitohs; in 2020 Hynes appeared 11 times for Storm and was named in the 17 for the grand final.
The utility's story is one of success, but his success has not come without struggle.
Hynes has overcome a lot of adversity, including his parents separating and jail stints for his beloved mum, as well as depression, to get to where he is.
"It's only a small 10 per cent of your life really, that you get to play rugby league," Hynes, who recently shared his story with Thnks Collective, said.
"You're only there for a maximum of around 10 years unless you're Cameron Smith, so you may as well keep following it and working hard.
“If you continue to work hard, you end up reaping the rewards that you put in.”
Hynes, whose Storm profile says "runs fearlessly at the line and has the size of a back-rower with all the skills of a half", said he shared his story to inspire others to overcome whatever obstacles they faced in their lives.
"It was something I reluctant to do because I was scared of the reaction I'd get, but I've had an unreal reaction," Hynes said.
"People have been reaching out to me and telling me I've inspired them to do what they want to do this year. A few have said I've saved them, which is absolutely phenomenal, because that's obviously the reason why I did it.
"There's been a few NRL players who have messaged me, who just appreciated it. They didn't really go through tough times, but they just really appreciated it and said more people need to do this. I'm really overwhelmed with the support.
“My message to all kids out there... not even just kids, everyone, if you're going through a tough thing - a rocky road or a tough time - it ain't week to speak. Always speak out about your problems because you're never going to be a burden on anyone.”
Hynes, who started pre-season training with the Storm on January 4, said he wanted to further excel in 2021 to continue to inspire others.
"It started off well and then unfortunately I had a bit of a groin injury, so I've been out of it for the past five days... haven't been able to be with the boys, which is quite frustrating, but all the boys are looking really good, fit," Hynes said, adding the squad was about to head to Geelong for a camp.
"Then I'll be back training with the boys on the field, ready to have a strong pre-season ready for a big 2021.
"I want to play more games than I did last year and continue being a regular NRL player and locking down that utility spot on the bench again.
"If a starting spot arises, then I want to make sure that I'm the next in line for any spot in the backline or halves, fullback again... I want to continue playing NRL as much as I can and open up opportunities to start somewhere the following year."
Hynes said he was “really grateful” for his journey so far and looked forward to what was to come.
“I enjoyed my time at Cutters and at Falcons,” Hynes said of his time playing Cup.
“I reckon it's a really good stepping stone, the Intrust Super Cup, and a lot of people who came out of the national under 20s competition back in the day thought the next step was to go straight into the NRL and didn't really understand what it was like to bide your time in Cup,” Hynes said.
“I'm really grateful that I've done that because it got me used to playing against men and going out and working and training. Definitely once you get into the full-time system, you realise how lucky you are to be in a full-time system because there's a lot of people out there still working full-time and training and chasing their dream.
“It set me up to get to where I am now, and who I am now.”
Hynes said being named in the 17 for the 2020 NRL grand final, but not playing, had spurred him on “big time”.
“Obviously it was great to be named in the 17 and be in the premiership side… I'll always be in the 17 that everyone looks at for years to come and that's something special,” Hynes said.
“Getting the ring on my finger was unbelievable, what every kid dreams of. But every kid dreams of playing in a grand final, actually getting on the field too, so it was bittersweet and definitely driving me that bit more to hopefully be in another grand final, play and hopefully win another one.
“That night, from then on, I've had a pure focus on working hard to get to another grand final for sure.”
Aside from working hard, Hynes added it was important to be surrounded by good people to succeed.
“I think it's important to surround yourself with people who want you to succeed as bad as you do… they’re going to help you along the way,” Hynes said.
“You're going to have your family, who are there to support you. Even if you think they're not, if you think they're not there for you, they're always going to be there no matter what.
“Obviously I'm lucky I had my brother and my mum who I could call at any time of the day or night. I had Aaron Booth, who I was living with at the time. I was very lucky that me and him crossed paths. I don't know if I would be playing NRL right now if it wasn't for him as well.
“You've just always got to make sure you know that the people that are there are always going to be there. They're never going to be annoyed at you if you want to have a chat to them. That's what they're there for and you'd do the same for them.
“It's always good to have a good support network and I'll always encourage people to build that support network and seek out people who are going to love them the most.”
Hynes said he was lucky to be part of such a good group at the Storm.
“We're all a pretty tight-knit group of boys here. If I'd have to pick one person I'd go and have a yarn to if I wasn't feeling that great, if it wasn't Boothy, it'd be Harry Grant… we get along really well,” Hynes said.
“But other than that, I could walk into the dressing room after having a bad day and noticeably looking down and there'd be about five or 10 blokes coming up and asking if I'm all good. They'd notice.
"That's just the culture that we have here. I think anyone in the locker room, I could go and have a chat to or a yarn about anything. That's what we're all about here at the Storm and I'm very lucky to have that sort of support here.”