FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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Brett Firman never had much time for an education, although he is a keen student of rival National Rugby League (NRL) halfbacks.
St George-Illawarra's rookie halfback rates his contest with Kangaroos skipper Andrew Johns as a turning point in his career and is disappointed Stacey Jones won't be lining up for the New Zealand Warriors at OKI Jubilee Stadium here tomorrow.
"It's really something to take on the best players in the world. It's a great challenge and playing against guys like that really lifts you," the 20-year-old said.
Johns marred Firman's experience back in June when he landed a sideline conversion to snatch 32-30 victory but the surprise contender for NRL player of the year still felt he held his own.
Firman set up three first half tries for the Dragons before he left the field injured.
"I went pretty well considering he is so much better than the competition."
The belief he gained from that encounter helped rid him of doubts he would be able to cut it in first grade having just played two reserve grade games for Cronulla in an injury-marred 2002.
"I don't think I handled the start well. I didn't think there was any pressure on me but when I had the start to the season that I did I started to doubt myself."
Dragons' coach Nathan Brown, in his first year in charge, sensed it was time for a heart-to-heart.
"Browney said he had confidence in me and he showed a lot of faith to keep picking me because to be honest I thought I should have been in reserve grade.
"When I first came here he told me I had to talk more and tell the forwards what to do. It was a bit daunting coming to the Dragons with no first grade experience and being asked to tell so many great players what to do on the field."
Firman decided early on his future was rugby league and his teachers were eventually happy to play along.
He only went to school at northern New South Wales in Year 12 when it was raining. If it was sunny he would be on the beach with his surfboard or working in a landscape business.
"The teachers didn't mind because I had a deal to play for Cronulla and a guaranteed job as a greenkeeper. It was pretty cruisy and I loved it."
He had hoped to play first grade for the Sharks despite the arrival of former Kangaroos halfback Brett Kimmorley.
However, he needed a shoulder reconstruction and spent most of the season on the sidelines.
"I was devastated but thankfully everything has clicked this year since moving to the Dragons."
Filling the gap created by Willie Peters' departure to the Rabbitohs, Firman reunited with an old schoolmate Trent Barrett.
The Kangaroos' five-eighth was five years ahead of Firman at school and gladly took him under his wing ? until a foot injury ended his season 10 weeks ago.
"I never imagined one day I'd be wearing the same colours as him playing first grade in Sydney."
Barrett was not as surprised.
"I don't want to put any more pressure on him than he needs but you can tell when a player's got it and he certainly has.
"He's been great over the past month, it's been tough for Brett because he's had more or less do it on his own."
Firman continued his development alongside Shaun Timmins, although Timmins will miss the Warriors' game after receiving a one-match suspension for a careless high tackle.
Brown is expected to finalise his team later today.