Bizarre superstition working wonders for Cowboys rookie
KYLE Laybutt has told the story behind his unique superstition "about a hundred times".
When teammates notice his right big toe painted bright red at training, they stare in bewilderment.
But for the 21-year-old half, who will make his NRL debut tonight, it's a reminder of his roots, how far he's come and how many people he's proven wrong.
Red is the colour of his junior club Bundaberg Wests Panthers, and plenty of his family will be in the AAMI Park stands when he runs out in the Cowboys No.6 against the Melbourne Storm.
But what's the origin of his quirky pre-match ritual?
"My mum doesn't have any girls in the family so they tried to 'girlie' us up a bit, she painted me and my brother's toenails one day (when I was about 12)," he said.
"I played well at footy that weekend and mum mucked around saying 'I think it's the toenail polish' and I've been doing it for 10 years now.
"After training when I take the boots off, they (teammates) just sit there and stare at it. I usually paint it on our day off every week.
"I've had to explain it about a hundred times but they just have a laugh about it, everyone's got their own superstitions."
Nowadays Laybutt defies his slight 90kg frame by cutting down bigger opponents with a superb tackling technique.
It's something he prides himself on. And there's a reason why.
Playing for Wide Bay at an under-12 carnival in Mackay, a few words of criticism made him realise he had to improve his defence, or he wouldn't crack the big time.
"I was at an under-12s footy carnival and my dad (Michael) overheard them say 'if he could tackle, he's be in the Queensland side'," Laybutt said.
"For a few years after that I was a bit down, I lacked confidence and had a few injuries as well.
"My defence was probably the weak point of my game. Dad pulled me aside a couple of times and said 'if you can tackle, you're going to go places', so I worked on it.
"He was my footy coach as well through the ranks, he rode me hard in defence.
"Dad would make me tackle everyone at training to try and instil some confidence in me.
"For years that's why I wasn't making teams, now I have made it I think it is because I pride myself on it."
So much so, he virtually challenged the Storm to "bring it on" when asked by media this week if he was preparing to be targeted by Melbourne.
Laybutt's career almost didn't get off the ground at all after he quit Canterbury's SG Ball under-18 team with homesickness, and he returned to Bundaberg to play local football.
It was a brave decision as his father is a lifelong, passionate Bulldogs fan.
A brief stint with Sunshine Coast led to a $3000 under-20 contract with the Cowboys and "the rest is history".
"My parents were saying just stick it out but I thought Bundy was everything and wanted to be home," Laybutt said.
"I had a girlfriend at the time and wanted to be there with family, but being away from home was really hard.
"But I realised I needed to go to improve and went to Sunny Coast, and took the risk to come up here."
The master to his apprentice, Johnathan Thurston, has had to play above his weight his entire career.
Laybutt has the privilege of watching the best player in the game's work ethic from close quarters.
"I've never been the biggest bloke and a lot of people do run at me, but I just put my body in front and Johnno's done it for how many years now?" Laybutt said.
"In attack, all the little things like tempo and straightening up, I've tried to take note of that and implement it in my game.
"He's the ultimate professional, always the last one off the field at training. I always try to be as well but he's always beating me."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy is renowned for being hard to impress but he has taken note of the courage Laybutt plays with.
"It's a bit strange for us to prepare for the Cowboys without preparing for Johnathan Thurston but that's been a nice change to be honest," Bellamy said.
"They still have a lot of quality players like Jake Granville and Lachlan Coote in their spine and Ray Thompson who is very experienced.
"They also have a young fella (Laybutt) coming in there who will be keen to play well, I've watched a little bit of him and he is a brave player who will do a good job for them."
The man who usually wears the Cowboys, No.6 Michael Morgan, admitted he "thought it was strange" when he noticed Laybutt's bright red nail for the first time.
"I noticed it last year that it was red and thought it was just a random thing, but then I noticed a few months later it was still there," he said.
"It's completely different to what I've ever heard before, but whatever works."