Growing up near Canberra in the country town of Cooma and playing junior football for the Raiders, Jack Williams would've dreamed of making his NRL debut on GIO Stadium.
Last Sunday, 21-year-old Williams did just that – albeit in Sharks colours, having moved to the Sutherland Shire in 2017. Amongst an injury-depleted Cronulla side, the powerful back-rower was tremendous, coming off the interchange for 51 minutes, 92 metres, 33 tackles and a try to help defeat his former club 24-16.
It was the perfect start to his first grade career. But for Williams, the achievement still hasn't quite sunk in.
"It was unreal. It was something I've been dreaming about since I was a young fella so to have it actually come true has been unreal," said Williams. "It still sort of doesn't feel like I've played with all of those fellas out in the NRL, but it's one of the best feelings I've had."
Williams joined the Raiders' junior representative ranks at the age of 15. His parents ferried him the 116 kilometres from Cooma to the nation's capital three or four times a week for training and games as he pursued his goals.
The robust forward then permanently moved to Canberra after graduating high school as an 18-year-old; a decision that would pay dividends. He quickly became a standout in the Raiders under 20s team and took out Canberra's NYC Player of the Year in 2016.
Signed by the Sharks last season, Williams arrived at Cronulla full of promise. However, a nasty hamstring injury curtailed his 2017 campaign and robbed him of the chance to push for an NRL berth.
But after starring in the Intrust Super Premiership with the Newtown Jets during the early rounds of 2018, Williams could no longer be overlooked for the top level. As fate would have it, his call up to play the Raiders in the ACT meant he was able to debut in front of family and friends.
"I was pretty lucky to be able to debut against my old club, especially doing all my juniors [there] and having my family really close by," he said.
"It was a good feeling to be honest. I really wanted to get the win that bad, so when I came off around the 70-minute mark and we were up by two I just had my fingers crossed on the sideline hoping we got the win."
The 55th minute of the match is a moment Williams will never forget. With the Sharks down 16-8, fullback Valentine Holmes chased a grubber close to the Raiders' line and brilliantly tapped the ball inside to a bustling Williams who gleefully crashed over for a four-pointer.
"It caught me by surprise when Val knocked the ball back to me but I just wanted to put the ball down straight away and hope that I didn't drop it or something," Williams laughed. "I was pretty lucky there."
Most impressive about the rookie's performance were the long minutes he endured against one of the biggest forward packs in the competition. Even Williams admitted he wasn't anticipating so much time in the thick of the action.
"I was only expecting maybe a maximum of 20 minutes, to be honest. But it was unreal. The speed of the game caught me off guard a bit but I found my groove and it was good to play those big minutes," he said.
After becoming Cronulla's 521st player, Williams is determined to hold his place in a Sharks team that has now won four games in a row.
"[I'll] definitely try and keep my spot or if not then go back down to Newtown, keep my head down, keep training hard and try to improve my game. Hopefully I can play as many NRL games as I can."
If he maintains the kind of form he showcased last weekend, it would seem Jack Williams has a long and fruitful future in the NRL.