Ennis: He stood tall and delivered
IT WAS a cold September evening in the nation's capital in week one of the 2016 ﬁnals series and Jordan Rapana had just raced the length of the ﬁeld to put the Raiders ahead 12-0.
I was standing there facing my teammates when our assistant coach Steve Price whispered to me, "Wade is gone, he has failed his HIA (head injury assessment)".
We had lost Paul Gallen mid-week to injury, now we had lost our vice-captain, Wade Graham, and were trailing 12-0 after 20 minutes in front of 25,000 screaming Raiders fans.
With the fear of our season slipping away, the emotion took over.
"Boys we have all the excuses in the world, we have lost our captain, Wade's gone, we know we have another shot next week, we can head back up the highway and no one will question us," I said.
I thought back to the days when I played with Webcke, Lockyer, Civoniceva, that 2006 Broncos premiership side, and I added: "Champion sides don't walk away from a ﬁght. Think what we have been through this year together."
As I turned my back on them to watch Jarrod Croker's shot at goal, I said: "You have until we kick this ball off to work out whether you want to let our season die or you want to stand and ﬁght. I know what I'm doing."
As I turned away there was this awful silence, until a voice boomed, "I'm coming with you Mick."
I knew exactly who it was without even looking, Matt Prior.
The snowy-haired prop, who for so long was mentioned in the sentence after Andrew Fiﬁta and Gallen, never received the public accolades, never chased the headlines.
He's a quiet and humble man on the outside, but underneath a brave competitor, a winner.
From that next kick-off, Prior stood and delivered.
He physically dominated his opponents with rushing line speed, brutal contact and venom in every one of his 22 carries, as he single-handedly changed the momentum of, not only the match, but the Sharks' season.
A rampaging try on the stroke of half-time was, I believe, the moment that won Cronulla its ﬁrst premiership, and the moment Prior stepped out from the shadows and became an Origin player.
When Brad Fittler read out the 20-man NSW Blues squad earlier in the week, I don't doubt there were many Blues fans thinking, "Did he just say Matt Prior?"
Fittler, in the build-up to Origin I, reinforced what everyone already knew: Fittler knows Origin as well as anyone.
His calm and measured approach ﬁltered through to the 11 debutants and allowed their conﬁdence to ﬂourish on rugby league's biggest stage.
He knows an Origin player when he sees one.
He knows it's not for everyone - it's unique, it takes a certain type to handle such a ﬁerce, ferocious and gruelling contest, to remain calm and composed as the adrenaline thumps through you, to drag yourself back into the defensive line as your body screams in agony.
He knows what Prior is made of - 31 years of age, two premierships, 216 NRL games and a 105kg frame full of granite and ticker.
As the NSW Blues take to ANZ stadium on Sunday night, rest assured, Blues fans, it will be the debutant Prior who's there when we need him most and he won't walk away from the fight.