ACT Brumbies rookie Connal McInerney let out a massive sigh of relief when the final whistle blew at Canberra Stadium two weeks ago.
The once discarded hooker had just completed his first 80-minute shift in Super Rugby and for the first time McInerney knew he belonged at that level.
The 23-year-old moved to Sydney earlier this year after giving up on his Brumbies dream but returned a few months later as injury cover and made his debut against the Sharks in round five.
McInerney earned a part-time supplementary contract and was flown to the South Africa to join the Brumbies as their fourth-string hooker.
Folau Faingaa was suspended the following week and McInerney was thrust into the starting XV to face the Sunwolves earlier this month. He put in a flawless performance.
The former Australia under-20 is now competing for a contract with Robbie Abel and the duo will fight for game time when they play Suntory in an exhibition match in Tokyo on Saturday.
"It was just massive relief to know you're good enough at this level," McInerney said.
"I was very nervous beforehand and you always have that self-doubt but you've got to put that aside and back yourself because if you don't, nobody else will.
"I'd basically closed the doors on the Brums and was trying to make the most of opportunities elsewhere, I didn't think I'd be back.
"At this level everyone does their job really well and you just have to do yours. It was super quick compared to any footy I've played before.
"I didn't expect to get any time in South Africa and just sort of had a bit of luck. Then it was just pure relief to get through that 80 minutes and have a solid enough game against the Sunwolves."
McInerney knows he's on the brink of a sliding doors moment in his life and is determined to do enough in the Brumbies final four games to earn a contract.
The young rake said this might be his final chance to break into a Super Rugby squad and he wants to give it everything he's got.
"Every game is an opportunity and if I get out there it's a massive opportunity, there's only four games left but hopefully I can go further with the Brumbies," McInerney said.
"Opportunities don't come every day and I haven't really had the opportunity I've had in the last few weeks, but it's a funny thing because talking to a lot of the boys, this is how their careers started.
"Just through injuries and getting their chance to play some good footy. You play well and all of a sudden you're back in the system, that's the beauty of professional rugby.
"The season has gone really quick and I need to make something of it. Hopefully I can tick the boxes and if something comes up I'd be absolutely stoked."
The next step for McInerney is earning a start in Tokyo on Saturday where he'll come up against a childhood hero in Suntory playmaker and former Brumby Matt Giteua.
"They've got some big stars in their team, Matt Giteau and Sean McMahon and the Suntory guys will be frothing knowing they're up against a good Australian team like us," McInerney said.
"We'll be playing in front of a pretty big crowd and I might have to get photo with Gits after the game, I've been watching him since I was 10 years old."
The man who decides if McInerney will be on the Brumbies books next season, coach Dan McKellar, was impressed with how comfortable his fourth-string rake looked against the Sunwolves.
"Dan has just said keep to working hard but main thing he told me is this is where I belong, at this level, and I just took heaps of confidence out of that," McInerney said.
"Anything that Dan says is like gold, he's a man of few words so when he says good stuff like that you take it every day of the week."
MINATO RUGBY FESTIVAL
Saturday: Suntory Sungoliath v ACT Brumbies at Chichiibunomiya Rugby Field, 1pm.
Eamonn Tiernan is a sports reporter with The Canberra Times
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