The last time Nick Cotric visited his family in Serbia, he was a boy who could only dream of one day playing for NSW.
When he returns to Serbia – where his mother was born before migrating to Australia – at the end of this season, he will have fulfilled that dream.
And he will return to a country which has since embraced rugby league through the Balkan Super League, a competition established two years ago which carries six Serbian sides.
"They know what rugby league is now. I think they kind of knew what it was when I first started playing but now they have a whole league over there," Cotric told the Herald. "It started up two or three years ago so they fully understand it now. They love it.
"I am going at the end of the year to catch up with all of them because it’s been a long time. I can't wait, I've got to go see them soon."
With the majority of his extended family still overseas, Cotric is surrounded by a small, tight-knit circle of family and friends in Canberra.
His father, in particular, has helped keep the 20-year-old grounded while being touted as a potential star since his early teens.
"I juggled a few sports but when I was 14 my dad said to me that I had to choose one sport. So I chose rugby league. Ever since then that’s all I’ve played," Cotric said. "My dad nearly cried when I told him I was going to play [for NSW]. It was a good moment, telling him that I was going to play. It meant a lot to me to be able to tell him it meant a lot to him, too."
Every time Cotric's family and friends packed into his Canberra home to watch Origin as a child, he would walk away dreaming of one day donning the sky blue jersey. One moment from Origin matches of yesteryear stands out.
"I remember Jarryd Hayne going down the sideline, kicking it and regathering and scoring. That always sticks in my mind," Cotric said. "As a kid, I remember watching that and just thinking how unbelievable it was. I’d never seen anything like it before."
It was after that famous Hayne try in 2007 – when Cotric was eight years old – that the Raiders star knew what he wanted to do when he finished school. As he grew older and his friends started drinking, Cotric would always ensure his football came first.
"I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get here and to be where I am now. When I was 18, 19, even now at 20, all the boys are going out and drinking," he said. "I just have to tell them that I can’t, that I have to go home and prepare well for a game. They understand that my footy comes first and I have to go home and sip on the waters and watch the Snapchats roll in."
Those nights at home spent sipping on water while his friends were out have paid off before even Cotric could have possibly expected them to.
When he turns his childhood dream into a reality on Wednesday night, the clock will have just ticked past noon in Serbia. You better believe they'll be watching in Belgrade.
"I remember watching as a kid, getting all of your family and friends packed into the room and watching it all together," Cotric said. "I can’t believe I am going to go out there in a few days. It’s a dream come true."
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