It was by no means easy, but leaving Canberra is the best thing that has happened to Paul Vaughan's career.
Vaughan will become the 1000th player to don sky blue when he makes his NSW Blues debut in the State of Origin series opener against the Queensland Maroons at the MCG on Wednesday night.
Paul Vaughan has reached “the pinnacle of rugby league”.
He has come a long way since being forced out of the Canberra Raiders squad with a year remaining on his contract at the end of 2016, when the Green Machine opted in favour of a middle rotation that didn't include Vaughan.
A long way since being a raw 16-year-old making his first grade debut for the Gungahlin Bulls in the Canberra Raiders Cup, where he would later suffer a broken leg that ultimately left him on life support.
He hasn't forgotten his roots, with the Bulls posting a video about him on social media that took Vaughan for a stroll down memory lane.
But leaving them behind and joining the St. George Illawarra Dragons has taken him to "the pinnacle of rugby league".
"The best thing I did in my career was to leave Canberra and go to the Saints," Vaughan said.
"I’ve played my best football there and that’s a credit to the coach and the coaching staff they have there. They got the best out of me and obviously I’m reaching new levels in my career which is great.
"I dreamt of this when I was a young fella, coming up and playing State of Origin. I’m pinching myself every day, just the realisation that that is going to come true on Wednesday. It’s the pinnacle of rugby league I think and I’m very honoured and very privileged to be a part of it.
"The only NSW team I made was Residents, that’s reserve grade. That was before a game at Suncorp Stadium. I didn’t make any 16s, 18s or 20s NSW when I was a young fella so it’s pretty cool that I’m making first grade."
That residents game remains Vaughan's only taste of the Origin arena.
He never went to watch Origin games when he was growing up, instead just watching them at home with family. Now Vaughan's mum, two sisters and two best mates will be in the crowd watching him.
Vaughan credits St. George Illawarra's stunning rise to second on the ladder for his Origin call-up, with the "stacked" outfit's success leading to higher honours for its players.
Vaughan joins Tyson Frizell and Jack de Belin in the NSW side with Tariq Sims in the wings as 18th man, while halfback Ben Hunt will steer the Maroons into a new era.
"Obviously we’ve got a great forward pack at the Dragons and some world class players with James Graham, Frizell, de Belin and Simsy there. It’s a stacked side," Vaughan said.
"It’s just a credit to the Saints, hopefully we can represent the club to the best of our ability and repay the boys that got us there as a team.
"Because we’re going so well, the team collectively, there’s always going to be individuals that get rep honours if the team is going well. It’s a good thing for the club.
"I’ve always wanted to be a part of it, it’s pretty cool. It’s obviously a big arena and I’m just looking forward to getting out there.
"The whole experience, especially at the MCG with the amount of people that are going to be there, I’m just going to take it on board and enjoy the moment.
"Obviously it is my first ever series so I’m very excited and I just want to take it in."
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