RUGBY LEAGUE: Former Nambour junior Joe Boyce will make his NRL debut on Monday night but his former Newcastle welfare officer admits to not foreseeing such a rise to the professional ranks three years ago.
With the then 18-year-old Boyce battling off-field issues, former New Zealand international Craig Smith was tasked with turning the "ratbag" into a footballer at the request of master coach Wayne Bennett.
Boyce had arrived at Newcastle fresh from the Sunshine Coast competition and was "probably playing harder off the field than he was on it", Smith said.
Boyce weighed only 78kg yet had a reputation for hitting like a sledgehammer, but Smith had major doubts about whether Boyce would play NRL football.
"If you would have said to me three years ago (when Boyce arrived) that this 78kg wringing wet back-rower was going to play NRL, I would have said he was never going to make it," Smith said.
"If you had asked me at the end of his first year (of under-20s) if Joe Boyce would play NRL, I would have said not in a million years. But by the end of the two years he had worked out what was required within the system to be successful, and that meant changing a whole lot of things between the ears."
Boyce added 26kg to his frame, but it was the work Smith did with him off the field that paid the biggest dividends.
Boyce had a reputation for liking late nights when he arrived at Newcastle, but found out soon enough that if he was to make a life out of football, a lot of things had to change.
"The leopard doesn't change its spots and that was the hardest thing with Boycey, which was scrubbing hard at those spots and getting him to buy in," Smith said.
"But he changed himself and was dedicated to the task of becoming a rugby league player and buying into all the discipline that goes with that.
"In the end that discipline changed his life around for him and got him on a good pathway."
Such was Boyce's transformation, Bennett offered him a two-year-deal to return with him to Red Hill from Newcastle last October.
"WAYNE was fairly instrumental with the discipline that he ran at the club at the time," Smith said.
"Boyce's choice to follow Wayne back to Brisbane is good because he (Bennett) can actually control him."
Witnessing Boyce's turnaround fills Smith with a lot of pride and he praises the young man for his dedication to achieving his goals.
Smith believes Monday night's game will be the first of many for Boyce in Broncos colours.
"Win, lose, or draw on Monday night, it is an achievement within itself, but I told him to not be happy with just that, and he won't be," Smith said.
"He has got some really lofty goals and it is a roller-coaster with him because he will set himself up to fall, but if you look at how far he has come in the past few years I have no doubt he can achieve anything he wants to."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.