An NRL opportunity and a healthy love of beer were the only things keeping Mark Nicholls from believing that he could be a consistent first-grader.
Before arriving at South Sydney at the start of 2018, the unassuming prop thought of himself as a reserve-grader who could fill a gap when injury struck in the NRL side.
It had been his role for five seasons at Canberra and for a year with Melbourne before he found a home at the Rabbitohs.
"Before I came to this club, to be honest, I was probably a reserve-grader," he said before his first NRL grand final on Sunday.
"I spent five seasons down in Canberra and I didn't really get a run down there and I decided to go down to Melbourne and improve as a football player, and although I didn't play many games down there I feel like I had improved as a footy player.
"I always believed in my ability, I just hadn't really got a crack.
"From the first day I came here I felt like I'd found a bit of a home."
He arrived at Souths with 28 first-grade games under his belt. In the four seasons since he's punched out 81 games to become a cult figure for the club's faithful.
The 31-year-old puts it down to a shift in mindset.
"In my younger years I probably enjoyed a beer a little bit too much," he said.
"I was always a good trainer but I wasn't as professional off the field.
"I always felt like I was playing good footy in reserve grade, I just wasn't getting the opportunities in first grade to show what I can do.
"The other thing is, when you do get the opportunity that I've had here, and you start to string together games in back-to-back seasons, then you do get that confidence and belief."
During all those years of battling away, Nicholls admitted there were times he wondered if it would all be worth it.
But his love of playing rugby league never allowed him to quit the dream.
"There was definitely tough times but that's what makes it all worthwhile now," he said.