By Dan Walsh (NRL.com)
Gerard Beale left Brisbane in search of a coveted No.1 jumper.
Now that he rolls back into the Queensland capital for the first time in two years, he could well wind up playing his way into a gig at fullback for the Kiwis.
All eyes will be on the 34 players taking to Suncorp Stadium this Friday when the Broncos host St George Illawarra, with the loser of the do-or-die clash to enter directly into negotiations with their travel agents about their end of-year trip come Saturday.
And while we're sure Brisbane assistant coach Stephen Kearney is the utmost professional and will have eyes for this game and this game only, you couldn't blame the man if he kept an extra close watch on Beale, running around for just his third game at the back with the Dragons.
Kearney of course will trade in the maroon and gold tracksuit for a black and white one come Four Nations time, and a strong showing in front of the national coach certainly wouldn't do Beale's chances of landing the New Zealand fullback role any harm.
"That's an option," Beale admits when asked about a chance to play fullback for his country.
"It's out of my hands, all I can do is try and play well there and see what happens.
"I think when that comes around we'll see what happens but I'm just thinking about here, we're just trying to stay alive in the competition."
The irony of course is that the man who kept Beale from claiming the custodian spot he so desired at the Broncos, good mate and fellow competitor for the Kiwi No.1 jersey Josh Hoffman, won't be suiting up for the clash.
Hoffman – whose then-entrenched position at the back for Brisbane led to Beale's departure at the end of 2012 – will be watching from the sidelines due to an ankle injury.
The even greater irony is that since Beale left the Sunshine state, a 2013 season cruelled by a third knee reconstruction and the arrival of Josh Dugan at the Dragons have ensured that the 23-year-old has only in that last fortnight got his hands on the red and white jumper immortalised by Graeme Langlands.
Coach Paul McGregor handed him the fullback gig two weeks back against the Raiders with one proviso: make it your own.
For his part Beale is happy to take up the gauntlet.
"Of course, he challenges everyone, and I like that challenge," Beale says.
"It's a pretty big task, it's a big role out there.
"Especially defensively, there's a lot of things you don't see on the camera; a lot of stuff off the ball.
"But I've been happy to take on that challenge and take on that responsibility.
"It's what's best for the team and I think it's been a good fit.
"It allows Pete [Mata'utia] to show what he can do at left centre now and he's done a really good job, so I think so far there's a good combination there and we'll look to keep improving.
"Whether I stay there is up to Mary (McGregor).
"If the team is playing well and I improve there and play well I guess I'll most likely stay there.
"But footy's a funny thing, there's always twists and turns throughout the season."
After arriving to much fanfare at the Dragons last year only to have his debut season in the Red V reduced to just five games by a third ACL rupture, Beale is content just to be holding down a spot in St George Illawarra's star-studded backline.
That he's done a great deal more than that – grabbing nine tries this year, reclaiming his Kiwi Test spot at centre and sitting alongside Gareth Widdop as the only Dragon to be every game in 2014 – is just reward for a player who took a gamble in moving his family 12 hours down the Pacific Highway to wear a No.1 jumper.
"To play every game I've been extremely lucky," he says.
"I've had a good run with injuries this year hopefully it stays that way.
"For me last year I knew my season was over, so all I could do was focus on getting my knee right.
"I thought I did that pretty well and came into pre-season and the centre spot was up for grabs.
"I started the season there and it was good, but I'll play wherever.
"Now I'm back at fullback I just want to keep improving and be the best player I can be."