Maitland teenager Hayden Hackney has earned the chance to shine on the international stage with the East Maitland Griffin under-16 player taking part in the 2019 Young Achievers Tour to Papua New Guinea.
The team, which flies out on September 21, will play a series of games against PNG representative teams culminating in a match against the PNG Under-16 National team.
In a country where rugby league is the national sport and players are idolised, Hayden and his young teammates can expect the star treatment, especially when they fly to a remote village which is hosting a non-PNG sporting team for the first time.
The tour has been an important stepping stone for future NRL players including South Sydney star and Australian representative Alex Johnson and his teammate Cameron Murray who played Origin this year.
Coach Col Wright chooses candidates from rural NSW and Hayden's invitation follow's the participation in 2017 by West Maitland's Jake Collins-Doherty.
There will be a familiar face on tour for Hayden, with Maitland Pickers trainer Merv Fullford returning on what has become an annual pilgrimage.
It's been a challenging but exciting path already for Hayden, who had to go through a pitch session with major sponsor the Burton Automotive group and then travelled down to Sydney to meet up with Johnson, Murray and their Souths teammates.
A lifelong Rabbitoh supporter, Hayden was joined by his dad Bill, also a Souths' tragic, at Redfern.
"The players and everyone at the club were just fantastic. It was really interesting and inspiring for Hayden to meet up with Alex Johnson and Cameron Murray who both went on the tour in the past," Bill said. "It showed their are different paths to the NRL.
"The tour exposes the kids who may not have had the opportunity at the elite level of the NRL junior structures but can certainly hold themselves and compete very well at representative level.
"It has been such a huge confidence booster for him. It's the opportunity of a lifetime not only culturally but also within league.
"For those who know Hayden he doesn't show much emotion. Internally I know he is buzzing."
A rare behind the scenes look at an NRL club and the chance to meet heroes also included an even rarer experience of famed coach Wayne Bennett cracking a joke and a smile.
"We were chatting with Alex and Cameron and Wayne Bennett popped his head in. We explained that Hayden was going on the same tour as the two Rabbitohs and Bennett joked 'hope it does more for your career than it has for theirs', " Bill said.