Shaun Fensom is so understated that many in his home town of Urunga on the NSW Mid North Coast are oblivious that they have skin in the game in today’s National Rugby League (NRL) grand final.
The durable power forward has been named on the bench for the North Queensland Cowboys in the big dance with the heavily favoured Melbourne Storm.
The 28-year-old will be playing his first top grade NRL grand final in what is his first year with the Cowboys after a long and decorated career with the Canberra Raiders.
Among those urging Shaun on at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, will be his “proud and very excited” mum, Debbie Swanson.
A Urunga boy, Debbie and family are travelling south to see him perform on the biggest stage.
“I am excited and nervous. It’s hard to believe. Just thinking about it gets my stomach in knots,” Debbie told the Guardian.
Shaun is signed with the Cowboys until the end of next season, and like North Queensland’s unlikely passage to the decider from eighth position on the ladder, success has come on the back of grit and graft.
I am excited and nervous. It’s hard to believe. Just thinking about it gets my stomach in knots.Proud mother Debbie Swanson
Playing as a lock or prop in the mid of the field –where “it’s full on”, quips Debbie – Shaun has had to overcome a string of injuries in recent seasons.
And while the headlines are mostly reserved for flashy halves and gazelle-like fullbacks, none of their magic can play out without the hard yakka of those in the middle.
For all that Shaun – who attended Repton and Urunga primary schools and Bellingen High – has never been entirely cloaked in anonymity.
In fantasy football, where statistics for tackling, minutes on the park, and hit ups rate highly, Shaun was god-like, and a ‘must have’ in any serious line-up.
And he has also tasted success in the matches that matter – celebrating a premiership in 2008 when he captained the Raiders in the first year of the Toyota Cup under 20s competition.
Shaun has also played rep – with the NSW Country Under 18s – from the humble beginnings as an eager pup with the Bellingen Magpies.
His hometown has been quick to show support this week, with the Urunga Pharmacy where Debbie works going all out as the staff went ‘full Cowboy’.
Whatever the result of the grand final, Debbie is looking forward to seeing her son – who now has an eight-month-old daughter – back home soon.
“He’ll be here for sure for a fish and a surf,” Debbie said.
How they line-up
North Queensland Cowboys: Lachlan Coote, Kyle Feldt, Justin O'Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Te Maire Martin, Michael Morgan, John Asiata, Jake Granville, Scott Bolton, Gavin Cooper ©, Ethan Lowe, Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: Ben Hampton, Coen Hess, Corey Jensen, Shaun Fensom.
Melbourne Storm: Billy Slater, Suliasi Vunivalu, Will Chambers, Curtis Scott, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith ©, Jordan McLean, Felise Kaufusi, Tohu Harris, Dale Finucane. Interchange: Kenneath Bromwich, Tim Glasby, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Slade Griffin.
Kick-off 7.15pm, Sunday