'They thought it was like fighting': Cotric changing perceptions in Serbia

After learning that he and Raiders team-mate Jack Wighton had been selected in the NSW team for next Wednesday night’s opening State of Origin, Nick Cotric drove to the Canberra five-eighth's house and gave him a massive hug.

“We were over the moon, both of us. We just hugged each other and had a laugh. It was good,” Cotric said.

The pair were elated to have been selected for their Origin debuts but the fulfilment of a life-long goal had different meaning for each of them.

For Cotric, it was the continuation of a journey the winger has been on since he was 16 years old, while for Wighton, it was confirmation his career was now back on track following a significant deviation last season when he was suspended for 10 matches after pleading guilty to assault.

In contrast, Cotric has only made headlines for his on-field deeds and has progressed without incident through the Raiders and NSW ranks from under 16s to under 18s to under 20 to senior level.

He bypassed NSW Cup and has played 57 NRL matches for Canberra since Ricky Stuart called him up from Under 20s for his first grade debut in 2017.

The previous season Cotric represented the NSW Under 18s, coached by Brad Fittler, and last year he spent time in camp with the Blues, while also representing the Prime Minister’s XIII in Papua New Guinea.

“I got a call from Brad Fittler on Saturday after our game against the Cowboys and I was speechless,” Cotric said.

“I didn’t know what to say, I was just shocked. I am so proud and I can’t wait for the game.

“I called mum and dad up straight away, they were actually out for dinner and I said ‘Dad, I’m playing’ and I remember his voice. It was a great moment. I think my Mum and Dad shed a tear there, they were so proud of me and when I got home I just gave them a big hug.

“They were just happy parents. Without them I wouldn’t be here, they have done so much for me. They have taken me to training, always driving me around – sometimes I would play away games in Yass and they would take me. They sacrificed a lot to help me out. I am so grateful to have such great parents because they have been there and been so supportive of me.”

Cotric has Serbian heritage and he received messages of congratulations from family members in Serbia.

When he started playing at six years of age for Tuggeranong Knights, Cotric’s relatives in Serbia didn’t know what league was but they will be watching the game and cheering for NSW next Wednesday night.

“All my Serbian cousins, they would say ‘you’re crazy, why are you playing rugby league’. They used to think it was like fighting," Cotric said. "They are all soccer-mad so they didn’t really know rugby league but now they are playing it over there.

“They have got a few comps going in Serbia, so they all understand the game now. They still think I am crazy but they messaged my Mum and Dad so they can watch it now. They are proud over there too.”

Yet to celebrate his 21st birthday, Cotric’s earliest recollection of Origin was the 2007 series when Jarryd Hayne raced down the touchline, kicked and regathered to score a try for NSW that still regularly features in highlights reels.

He also recalls Josh Morris’s game-saving pursuit of Greg Inglis with a ruptured PCL in the opening match of the 2014 series, which set the Blues up to end Queensland’s eight-year Origin domination, and is excited to be rooming with the Cronulla centre.

“He is such a tough player, he is a great player and a great bloke too,” Cotric said of Morris.

“He is taking me under his wing and helping me out.”

According to Raiders officials, Cotric is unlikely to need much guidance.

“He has always been touted as a future Origin player from the time he was 16 so the fact he has realised it through dedication and ongoing improvement is a good story about realisation of potential,” Canberra recruitment manager Peter Mulholland said.

“A lot of them don’t follow on with it but he has been able to do that, the same with Payne Haas. There is no doubt about it, it’s great for the club and it’s great for Nick. With two of our local juniors coming through like that it is fantastic.”

Cotric, who credits cooking pizza in his family’s take-away shop while in Year 12 for helping to keep him grounded, said Wighton deserved his selection as the NSW bench utility after turning his life around and making a successful switch from fullback to five-eighth for the Raiders.

“Jack is working really hard and he has been playing some great footy,” Cotric said.

“He is such a great mate of mine as well so I am so happy for him. We were at the airport flying into Sydney [to join the NSW camp] and we just looked at each other like we couldn’t believe it. It is a great feeling.”

 

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