Sean O’Sullivan spent more than two weeks cheating on Manly and his own parents before fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing No.7 for Penrith.
O’Sullivan featured in the NRL opener on Thursday night, replacing Nathan Cleary with aplomb in the 28-6 win over Manly.
The reigning premiers only confirmed on Tuesday that Cleary would miss the first three rounds, after months of speculation over his shoulder recovery.
But in truth, Penrith and O’Sullivan had known since before the final pre-season trial that he would be the man playing No.7 against Manly.
After moving to Penrith aged seven, O’Sullivan was told to keep quiet and not even tell his parents he would be playing.
“Nobody knew,” O’Sullivan said.
“I just offered a simple ‘I don’t know yet’ (when they asked).
“They’re pretty good with it all. They understand when it’s good for them to know that they will know.
“That’s what I had to do for the team, so it didn’t matter.”
Penrith’s decision to keep Cleary’s absence a secret was twofold.
Just two weeks ago, players said they were confident he would play, knowing he wouldn’t miss in the first round.
Penrith was keen to distract O’Sullivan, while also being happy to keep the Sea Eagles guessing.
“I was definitely thinking about Sully and a few other things as well,” coach Ivan Cleary said.
“It just shows his commitment to the team and the club that he has kept in-house.
“I knew he was nervous the last few days…He knew all eyes would be on him.”
O’Sullivan had reason to be nervous, saying he had never been so nervous in his life as he was before Thursday’s game.
A teenage member of the Penrith halves academy with Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, he thought his shot at the Panthers shirt was gone when he left the club aged 17.
He called for a return this year from the Warriors, happy to sit behind the NSW State of Origin half-back and bide his time.
“That was the main reason I came here, to learn from Nath,” O’Sullivan said.
“I’m only 23, so I really felt like I could take a lot out of it and head over to him, continue to learn from him and hopefully succeed.
“He’s been amazing all this pre-season.
“Even yesterday I was nervous like after the captain’s race, but the way he spoke to me afterwards (helped).”
O’Sullivan only has a one-year contract at Penrith and next month provides the perfect showcase opportunity.
His father Peter is now at the Dolphins as head of recruiting, but the 23-year-old insisted there were no signs he would follow him next year.
“He’ll do his own thing. And I’m happy to do mine too,” O’Sullivan said.
Australian Associated Press