Not in Josh Patston’s wildest dreams did he think he would be playing in this year’s Hostplus Cup grand final with the Burleigh Bears.
The former Tweed Seagulls second rower started season 2023 with the Sunshine Coast Falcons after he left his home base at the end of 2022 to chase a childhood dream and enjoy an NRL pre-season with Melbourne Storm.
And while he did get that opportunity, his time on the Sunshine Coast did not go to plan. Patston played just one game with the Falcons, starting at centre in Round 1 of the Cup season.
But, as he worked through some personal issues while away from family and friends, it became clear to the 24-year-old that his life away from the field was starting to impact his performance on the field.
He left the club he had hoped would be his ticket to the NRL and the Lismore Marist Brothers junior went back home to play with his former club in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition.
At this point, he didn’t think he would be back in Hostplus Cup in 2023, let alone playing in the premiership decider.
“I was up on the Sunny Coast and it was great but I just had a bit going on in my personal life while I was up there,” Patston said.
“I had a bit of relationship break up at the end of last year when I was in Melbourne. That took a toll on me because we were together for a long time and it was just that type of personal stuff that I couldn’t really deal with in a new town away from family and friends.
“I needed that family support at that time… I had to make a call and I made the call to come back closer to home and to family.
“As I came back, I actually played Round 1 in the Northern Rivers comp not thinking that I would play Cup for the rest of the year.
“Then I started training and I worked out that Cup was still on the radar so I met with (Burleigh coach Luke Burt).
“He gave me a call and I met with him and he just said, ‘if you come here and work hard you don’t know where you’ll end up'.
“It was a couple of backwards steps to go forwards.”
Patston played for Burleigh in the Rugby League Gold Coast A grade competition before his elevation to Cup in Round 13 against Norths Devils.
He has since cemented his starting place in Burleigh’s back row and will don the No. 12 jersey once again this Sunday against the Brisbane Tigers at Kayo Stadium.
Match: Bears v Tigers
Grand Final -
Venue: Kayo Stadium, Redcliffe
And at the Bears, he’s as happy as he’s ever been.
“It’s made me enjoy my football the most, playing where I am at the moment,” Patston said.
“It was just one of those things where you leave home for footy and you don’t know what you’ve got until you make big life decisions.
“I’m happy now. Footy is good. When people say that if things outside of footy aren’t going well, then your footy isn’t going well, I didn’t really believe it until it stumbled across me. It’s pretty crazy how life works.”
Patston has fit in so easily at Burleigh due to the culture at the club and the connections between the playing group and coaching staff.
He said Sami Sauiluma, Pat Politoni and Sam Coster lead the way and he has struck up a particularly strong friendship with his teammates on his right side, including Guy Hamilton, Kea Pere and Tony Francis.
And coach Luke Burt in particular has had a strong impact on Patston since his arrival.
“Burty’s a great guy,” he said.
“I’m a bit of a character myself but he sees me for that and tells me not to change. He says there’s times to be stupid and not to be.
“We have a good, happy relationship between a coach and a player.
“He brings belief. He doesn’t try and make things too difficult. He’s got a lot belief in us as a team and individuals.
“Burty makes the tough calls and stuff but he really leans on his coaching staff and our leadership group. He uses his tools that he’s got to make the team great.
“He’s just got that aura about him that you don’t want to let him down. He believes in us and we believe in what he does for the team.
“Whatever call he makes, it’s the right call. It’s a great relationship between coaches and players. All we want to do is win for him.”
And the Bears will fight for the chance to do that on Sunday.
For Patston, it would be the cherry on top of a rollercoaster year. He said it was already surreal to make it to grand final day and - while he hadn’t thought too much about actually winning the premiership - he knew it would mean “the world”.
“It means a lot,” he said of qualifying for the grand final.
“You work hard all year and through gruelling pre-seasons to get here. For it to all happen early in my Cup career, it’s amazing. I’m pretty stoked. It’s surreal. It’s something you dream of.
“It brings goosebumps. I don’t know what to expect but I can’t wait for Sunday and I’m just itching to get there.
“It would mean the world to win it, it really would. It would just a cap off a good year of coming to Burleigh. From where I was to where I am now, it would make a really great story.”