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Eels forward Andrew Davey.

For Parramatta's latest debutant Andrew Davey, a remarkable and long-awaited taste of first grade was close to slipping away before coach Brad Arthur intervened.

The 28-year-old builder was given his first NRL contract by the Eels in 2019 and earned player-of-the-year honours and a grand final spot for NSW Canterbury Cup side Wentworthville but with the stage set to press for higher honours in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened.

The shutdown of sporting competitions not only robbed Davey of week-to-week footy and a chance to impress the coaches.

The economic hardship wrought by the shut-down halved his reserve grade salary and the NRL's strict biosecurity requirements locked him in his club's 50-man "bubble" – meaning he couldn't even supplement his wage with some building work on the side.

Get Caught Up: Round 10

With mates in the building industry back in Mackay begging him to return for some generously-paid work and cash running out, Davey found himself living week-to-week and leaning on housemate Shaun Lane to cover the lion's share of the rent and bills.

Speaking after his 29 minutes against Manly, with 22 tackles (zero missed), two offloads (one leading to a try) and 49 metres, you could not wipe the smile from Davey's face.

It could so easily have been a different story.

"It has all happened extremely quickly," Davey said.

Eels forward Andrew Davey.
Eels forward Andrew Davey. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"Two or three weeks ago I thought I might be going home with the pay cuts and that. It was hard, a couple of boys have kept me in it. David Gower, Shaun Lane and Daniel Alvaro. All those boys kept me going.

"I've worked hard. I've said that the whole way along I just need an opportunity and I will do the rest. Tonight I got my opportunity and hopefully, I did enough to have another run."

Davey would be one of very few players – perhaps the only one – whose spot in an NRL 17 in round 10 came at significant financial cost, rather than benefit.

"I ran my own business for a long time, and had a reputation in Mackay where my family are," he said.

"I had a couple of builders calling me up to come home and work – and it's great money.

"The money I turned down, it's normally at the start of the day when I'm in the shower and I just think 'oh my God, the money I am giving up'.

Two or three weeks ago I thought I might be going home with the pay cuts and that

Eels rookie Andrew Davey

"But I knew this was what I wanted. I turned up in Parra gear every morning and I see the life I get to live. I would be mad not to live it out for as long as I could."

It was made even tougher by having an offer of work in Sydney and not being able to take it up for biosecurity reasons.

"I had the offer there but we just couldn't because of the rules. It's hard and frustrating," he said.

"I'm not going to let people reach into their pocket for me. It comes with a bit of pride as well to an extent. A lending hand but I'm not going to live off somebody."

The journey to an NRL debut came with plenty of support from teammates, friends and family.

Davey gave particular thanks to close mate James Verzeletti, who he described as "my biggest fan" after driving 15 hours to be at Davey's Lottoland debut.

"He's a really good mate, a close mate of mine. He came all the way from Emerald," Davey said.

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Eels

"I don't think he slept on Thursday night. He drove 15 hours with his son Locky to get here and watch my debut. I can't thank Verz enough."

Davey admits he was never a standout player during his young days.

"I got a job when I was 16, been a tradie for 12 years before this opportunity arose. I didn't come through the grades, I definitely took the scenic route," he laughed.

"It was a long time coming, a lot of hard work. A lot of work that was done when no one was looking. Both in footy and in my work as a tradesman just making sure I had the money to put myself through the system."

That journey included seven years in A-grade teams around Emerald and a stint with Mackay side Wests Tigers before Intrust Super Cup stints with the Mackay Cutters then the Townsville Blackhawks, from where he was eventually picked up by the Eels.

Despite playing well in 2019, it was a long year given the lack of opportunities for those outside the regular NRL 17.

"I played every game and was playing some good footy towards the end of the year," Davey said.

"You're always disappointed you don't get a run. Towards the end of the year, it was more about enjoying your footy, and at Wentworthville we were. I think that's why we went to the grand final because everyone there enjoyed their footy.

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"I got to play with Tim Mannah, one of the greats. Josh Hoffman and people like that. You have to put things in perspective. A few years before that I was playing A-grade in a local comp in the bush."

Davey's assured spell against Manly drew warm praise from coach Brad Arthur.

"He was good. We put him out there, he played 30 minutes against a tough footy team like Manly in the second half when we were under the pump. I thought he did a good job," Arthur said.

"We want to win footy games but also we bring people to our club and anyone at our club we want to see them improve and we want them to be good people and he's a good bloke, deserves the opportunity.

"He probably would have got an opportunity last year, he was our player of the year in the reggies but we didn't have any injuries last year. At the back end of the year we went nine or 10 weeks straight without any injuries so it was unfortunate for him he didn't get an opportunity."

Told of his coach's understated praise, Davey could only smile.

"Yeah, BA, He's about as emotional as a pet rock isn't he?" he laughed.

"Nah, he had some positive things to say. There are always ways you can better your performance. I'd love to get that second one to prove I really do belong and it's not a fluke."

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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