When Corey Horsburgh runs onto Accor Stadium on Wednesday, the Blues should know they won’t just be taking on one red-headed firebrand – they’ll be facing the whole Horsburgh clan.
Packing up the van and heading off to sport has become routine for the Horsburghs and Origin III in Sydney will be no different for the Caboolture family when they stand proudly to watch their youngest pull on a Maroons jersey for the first time.
“We always worked on the adage of ‘one in, all in’ so if you took on the Horsburghs, you didn’t take on one. You took on all of them,” Corey's mum Sandy told NRL.com.
"We were always heavily sports-oriented and on the weekend we packed the van up to get to everyone's games and were together all the time.
“So, you had to love or hate each other all the time. There was a lot of both.”
Corey Horsburgh: 'I've been a footy head my whole life'
It'll be a short turnaround for parents Rick and Sandy, who heard news of their son's Origin selection while they were in Canberra, having watched the Raiders over the weekend.
But travelling across the country has become the norm for Rick, a Woodford Jail prison guard, who most weekends can be spotted in his Raiders Hawaiian shirt – no matter the temperature – cheering on Corey from the crowd.
“I do a mix of everything to get there. I’ve caught buses, trains, planes, it just depends on prices really,” Rick told NRL.com.
“Sometimes I fly to Sydney and bus or train to Canberra, whatever we can afford.
“I’ve driven to Wagga Wagga and Moruya, all of the country games. We’ve got a camper van so we sleep in that, watch him play footy and drive home.
"I’ve already booked flights for their next game in New Zealand and Newcastle the week after. I’ve for most of his games covered for the end of the year.
“I guess it’s just for the love of football. I was always a big footballer and now I just love watching my son play and want him to have someone there.”
The redhead's rise to the Origin arena might have come as a shock to many in 2023, but there's another old adage that rings true: that Mum always knows best.
“I remember being in the car with him one day and arguing about schoolwork and he said to me ‘Mum, it’s ok I’m just going to play football. I’m going to be a footballer,” Sandy recalled. "I told him, 'well you’ll have to work hard’.
"Corey replied ‘I’ll work hard at what I love'.
“It was very hard sometimes," she added. He always played down that he wasn’t a smart person and I always tried to encourage that side of him.
"He said if he didn’t make it in footy, he would go into the army. But deep down, because of his mindset and his determination, I knew he’d be ok.
If you say you can’t do something to Corey, it’s like a red flag to a bull.Sandy Horsburgh
“He just becomes more determined and more driven to prove that he can do it and that he can do it better than what you think he can do.”
Horsburgh arrived in the nation's capital in 2017 after renowned Raiders recruitment officer Peter Mulholland offered an opportunity for the Caboolture kid to join the club on a development contract.
Having been linked with the Cowboys in his teenage years but struggling to prove his wares in North Queensland, the Horsburgh’s knew the offer to play under Ricky Stuart was the best opportunity for their fiery, but talented, son.
Ricky sees himself in Corey Horsburgh
“There’s been lots of talk about people being mentors to him and I think he’s taken a lot of that advice on now and he’s not a silly teenager anymore,” Rick Horsburgh said.
“He’s got his head and his heart working together. I know he butts heads with Ricky but that’s life. They’re both really passionate people. I know there’s times where they don’t speak to each other for weeks but then they’re talking again.
“Ricky was one of the first people who rang and congratulated us when he heard Corey was in and I know how proud he would be of him also.”
“I am very happy for Corey, he knows that. But I’m just as happy for his mum and dad too," Stuart told the media on Thursday. "His father is an unbelievable support for Corey. He’s at every game, whether he has to drive or fly.
"That family is a great example of what support for your boy does in regard to their career."Raiders coach Ricky Stuart
“Having that supportive family is such a great influence for a young athlete, girl or boy and they epitomise that for the support they’ve got for their son Corey.”
Pulling over in North Queensland's Bowen, campervan in tow to chat to NRL.com, the Horsburgh's know that Corey's sporting commitments have once again derailed their holiday plans, and they know it likely won't be the last.
The Horsburgh's will come from far and wide – Mackay, Canberra, Brisbane and beyond – to once again assemble in unity for what they see as the "pinnacle" achievement of them all.
“It's been the norm since Corey’s been about 12 – we’ve had to abort holidays and change dates,” they said with a laugh. “We were planning to be up north for two weeks but we’ve got to bolt home to get back on Tuesday night to fly into Sydney.
"We’ll be home by 7.30 on Thursday morning and then we’ll head back up North to finish off the last three days of the holiday before we go back to work.
"But we wouldn’t have it any other way, we wouldn’t change it for the world. Corey will take on that arena in his own style. He will show his true heart for football."
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 3 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney