Hudson Young had a missed call on his phone after Sunday's loss to Manly but he knew the number belonged to Brad Fittler, as the Blues coach supported him during the lowest point of his career.
The Raiders forward, who will make his Origin debut in next week’s series opener, has overcome a drugs ban while in his teens, and the ignominy of missing the 2019 grand final due to a gouging suspension to earn his place in the NSW second-row.
As he runs onto Adelaide Oval, Young will think of the late Peter Mulholland, who helped revive his NRL dream after he tested positive for a banned supplement, and the many others whose support he is grateful for, including Fittler.
After making his NRL debut in 2019, Young received a five-match ban for gouging Aiden Tolman and was suspended for eight matches later in the season after being found guilty of the same offence on Warriors centre Adam Pompey.
Missing Canberra’s grand final appearance against the Roosters was tough for Young after working so hard to take advantage of the lifeline provided by Mulholland and he revealed how Fittler had helped get him back on track.
“We have had a few chats before,” Young told NRL.com. “When I got suspended Freddy reached out to me and we did some things together.
“We had a tough loss against Manly [on Sunday] and after the game I checked my phone, and I had a missed call from Freddy.
Thank God I had his number, or I would have been texting him back saying ‘who’s this?’. To call him back and find out I am in the NSW team was crazy.Hudson Young
The Raiders also backed Young through his suspensions, but coach Ricky Stuart let him know that if he transgressed again his time in the Australian capital would be over.
It was the second time Young’s career had been at the crossroads after inadvertently taking an illegal substance contained in an over-the-counter product while playing SG Ball for the Knights and receiving an 18-month ban.
Mulholland, who had been at Newcastle at the time, offered Young a second chance in Canberra, where he was the club’s recruitment manager until his death in 2021.
“It was really sad to see him pass away, he had a massive influence on me and getting me to Canberra from Newcastle,” Young said.
“He had me on contract there and once my suspension finished, he took me to Canberra and the club has shown faith in me, so I want to repay them.
“It would have been really nice to still have Pete here to see me make my Origin debut because something he prided himself on was recruiting young players, and to see them go on and play State of Origin would be very special to him and the Canberra Raiders.”
While Young had been forced to ponder whether he had blown his NRL hopes, the resilience required to get his career back on track has helped earn him an Origin call-up.
“You talk about the setbacks and stuff like that, it is probably something I regret but I probably wouldn’t change much at the end of the day, because it has taught me resilience and it has made me who I am today,” he said.
“It is something I pride myself on. I was in Newcastle then and it has been a pretty crazy journey to end up here, but obviously through hard work and determination you can achieve it.”
The 24-year-old also had the help of family, friends and team-mates, who stuck by him through the tough times – particularly his parents.
The winning moment: Young
While serving his second gouging ban, which carried over from the 2019 season into the first four rounds of 2020, Young returned home to Maitland, where he grew up idolising local product Greg Bird.
“We have got a really good group of guys in Canberra, and my family stuck by me,” Young said.
“In my family’s eyes, I probably did nothing wrong. As every mum does, they stand in your corner no matter what you do and to have them to lean on was a big help.
“To go back home, no one really talks to me about footy so I could just switch off and be Hudson Young.”
After calling Fittler back to receive the news of his Blues selection, an emotional Young phoned his partner, Kelsea Peck, who was still at GIO Stadium with his grandparents.
He then told his parents that he was about to debut for NSW as they were driving home from Canberra.
“Mum broke down and I was saying, ‘what are you crying for?’,” he said. “Nan and Pop were really excited, as well. They put a lot of time and effort into me, driving me all around the state to play.
You dream as a kid to pull on a Blues jersey and I grew up in an era where they dominated, so that definitely lit a fire inside me and it is something I can’t wait to go out on the field and do.Hudson Young
“It will be a pinch yourself moment, it is the pinnacle of the game and to represent your family and your state and your town, and the Canberra Raiders, as well, is something I am really excited to do.”
Match: Maroons v Blues
Game 1 -
Venue: Adelaide Oval, Adelaide