Whether Maitland Pickers centre Matt Soper-Lawler achieves his dream of an NRL first grade career or not, it won't be through lack of determination and there will be no regrets.
"The end goal is an NRL contract, but if it doesn't happen I walk away with a lot of great memories. I've met some people and played at some places that I could have only dreamed of," Soper-Lawler said this week in as the Pickers prepare to take on fellow unbeaten President's Cup side Hills Bulls in Sydney on Sunday.
The football journey to date has taken Soper-Lawler from Maitland to the Newcastle Knights under-20s and NSW Cup, the Sunshine Coast and Souths Logan in the Queensland Cup and pre-seasons and trials with the Melbourne Storm and Knights and back to Maitland.
After missing promotion to the Knights first grade squad, Soper-Lawler was set to play with the Knights in the NSW Cup. Then Covid-19 struck, the NSW Cup was cancelled and it looked like he would take a year off from his quest to make the NRL.
Enter the Pickers and the President's Cup and after some negotiations over the family dinner table with his father, Maitland president Frank Lawler, he was on board for another journey.
Soper-Lawler rates the President's Cup as more physical than the Q Cup where he amassed 52 tries in 67 games and was the leading try-scorer in the competition last season with 23 in 23 games.
"It's a lot more physical, you are coming up against a lot of NSW Cup guys and former NRL players as well, but you are up against guys every week who want to prove themselves," he said.
"They want to prove that their club, their district, where they're from is every bit as good as everyone else.
"It doesn't matter if you've played 100 NRL games or 100 games for Maitland or Dubbo, it's more of a competition of wills and effort, people wanting to win."
Soper-Lawler said with so little knowledge about their opposition he wasn't sure what to expect from the competition, but given the quality of the team coach Matt Lantry had assembled he was not surprised by their 100 per cent win record after two games.
"You look at our side and there are some pretty good players in it. We certainly weren't going down there just to fill in the numbers.
"I didn't know how we were going to go, but winning the first two games has been great for our confidence."
Soper-Lawler played with and against several of his new teammates in Queensland and with the Knights.
Former Knights playmaker Brock Lamb and Henry Penn were teammates in the NSW under-20 and NSW Cup and he played against Sam Anderson, Faitotoa Faitotoa and James Taylor in Queensland.
"I think it's probably the best team culture wise that I've been involved with. There are no egos, everyone is equal and gets on like old mates," Soper-Lawler said.
A self-confessed footy nut, he has been working part-time at The Rugby League Academy with Lantry.
"I see a lot of kids coming through that remind me of myself a lot when I was that age, pretty skinny, love the game but just raw," he said.
"You've just got so much to learn and it would have been great to have something like that when I was a kid as I reckon I would have developed a lot earlier."
MAITLAND: 1 Daniel Langbridge 2 Elijah Rasiga 3 Matt Soper-Lawler 4 Gary Anderson 5 Willis Alatini 6 Chad O'Donnell 7 Brock Lamb 8 James Taylor 9 Alex Langbridge (c) 10 Jayden Butterfield 11 Cooper Jenkins 12 Henry Penn 13 Sam Anderson 14 Ben Ireland 15 Faitotoa Faitotoa 16 Jarred Anderson 17 Marvi Filipo 17 Cal Burgess