NRL CONTRACT: Sad loss drives rugby league player forward
SPENDING his days at construction sites has been swapped for more time on the training paddock for former Hervey Bay rugby league player J'maine Hopgood.
This week the Penrith Panthers announced the 21-year-old had been upgraded to an NRL development contract.
It means he will now train fulltime with the team.
Learning the news was both cause for celebration and an emotional moment for the young man.
His father, Dale Hopgood, died of a heart attack after playing a game of rugby league for the Hervey Bay Seagulls on March 24, 2007.
He was just 39.
Hopgood, who was working as a carpenter, is sure his father would be incredibly proud of his achievements.
"I'm sure he's looking over me and always beside me," he said.
"It's always hard losing someone like that, but it drives me as well."
Halfway through a training session, Hopgood received a text message from his manager letting him know the good news.
Hopgood, who plays lock and second row, said playing NRL was something he had always dreamed of as a kid and now he was a step closer.
As a kid he supported the North Queensland Cowboys and was a big fan of legendary halfback Johnathan Thurston.
But since moving to Penrith, he had become passionate about the club.
"Now I know what Penrith is like and the culture," he said.
"It would be an honour to pull on the jersey."
Hopgood doesn't know what the future will bring.
He comes from a talented line of footballers, some of whom have come close to playing professionally, including his brother, Tyrone, who was signed with the Manly Sea Eagles for a short time.
Homesickness saw him return to Hervey Bay to play for the Seagulls once again.
It is a feeling Hopgood himself is familiar with.
"There have been plenty of times I've thought about coming home," he said.
Dedication and hard work has kept him pushing forward, looking to fulfil the talent his family has always shared by playing NRL.
His mum Anita is a constant source of support, cheering her son on through every career highlight - and there have been several so far.
He has played for his state, including Queensland's under-20s side.
He was also named captain of the Penrith Panthers SG Ball side and has played two seasons for the club's under 20s side.
Hopgood said most of the kids he went to school with in Hervey Bay had also dreamed of a future in the NRL, one they never thought would come true.
But, with hard work, one day he hopes his will.