After 3663 days an Origin star is born
TWO days ago, Graeme and Wendy McCullough were in Alaska walking through an icy forest taking pictures of grizzly bears.
Yesterday morning, the parents of Brisbane Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough stepped off the plane after 14 hours of uncertainty to be told their son will finally make his Origin debut as the successor to Maroons champion Cameron Smith.
Some Origin stars are crowned in an instant but no one has been as patient as McCullough, who has played 225 NRL games and waited 3663 days to finally claim his maiden Queensland jumper.
For the past decade, Graeme and Wendy, residents of Dalby in the Darling Downs, have been told their son will one day play Origin, but Smith's dominance has kept him in the shadows.
Yesterday, after a month holidaying in Canada and Alaska, the McCulloughs returned to hug their son, who will be Queensland's hooker in Origin I at the MCG tomorrow week.
"We are so proud of Andrew," Wendy told The Courier-Mail.
"When we hopped on the plane, the Queensland team hadn't been picked, so we didn't hear anything until we saw Andrew at the airport this morning.
"We sat on the plane for 14 hours wondering if he had made it or not.
"We saw a huge smile on his face and we knew then he made the Queensland team. Being a typical mum, I just burst into tears."
McCullough's Origin dream has been the family's dream. Since his NRL debut in 2008, Graeme and Wendy have made the 400km-plus round trip from Dalby to Brisbane to watch every Broncos home game at Suncorp Stadium.
As a kid growing up in Dalby, McCullough, 28, idolised former Maroons winger Brett Dallas and would crash-tackle his older sister Lucy in the backyard.
"He always loved football," Wendy says. "We have home videos of Andrew where his older sisters (Chloe, 32, and Lucy, 30) would be interviewing him. Andrew would give his opinions on who was going to win Origin.
"Poor Lucy was like Andrew's older brother. She used to play footy in the backyard with him and Andrew would tackle her in the backyard. She would give as good as she got."
Graeme, an artist who works in a Dalby Art Gallery, admits he began to wonder if McCullough would ever get his chance for Queensland as Smith continued to amass a record of Origin games.
But when Maroons skipper Smith dropped his representative-retirement bombshell a fortnight ago, the Origin door finally swung open for his son.
"I'm so pleased for Andrew," he said.
"I was starting to worry he might not get the chance. I thought if Cameron retires, Andrew might be too old and then they will look for a younger hooker.
"Andrew has worked so hard to get this chance.
"We'll be going to Melbourne for sure ... we're used to travelling to watch him anyway."