By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Midway through last year, Dragons coach Paul McGregor received a text from his now back-rower Jake Marketo, asking for a second chance.
A player he had coached previously when in charge of the Illawarra Cutters three seasons ago, McGregor may not have expected the chance message from Marketo, but it was something the 26-year-old couldn't help himself doing.
After coming through the grades at the Dragons and initially playing 14 NRL games in his first stint at the club, Marketo departed Wollongong in 2012 to ply his trade for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup.
It was the impetus behind Marketo's eventual return to the Red V. The text message eventually paid off for the Holy Cross Rhinos junior as the grind of the real world became too much for him in Queensland.
Marketo had reached a point in his life where he needed to return home and rebuild his once-promising NRL career.
"Ever since I was young I've always had football there for me. During the 20s I was training with the Dragons' NRL squad and I wasn't working hard. I was going to Dragons training to do what I had to do and then leaving," Marketo tells NRL.com.
"When I moved up [to Queensland] the lesson learnt was that I needed to respect the game and what I had a bit more. It improved me as a person I think too because I had to be a part of the real world and go out and work and earn my money. It's a lot harder being in the workforce than it is being a full-time rugby league player.
"We get bashed every week but it's a lot harder when you have to wake up early and put in your 10 hours of work in everyday. It was a reality check, 100 per cent. I had to rely on myself and had to learn a few life lessons. I had to look at myself in the mirror and start pulling my head in a bit so it shaped me on my path to what I'm doing now."
Marketo's move back to the Dragons was one 12 months in the making.
After originally trying to get out of his contract at the Dolphins at the beginning of 2014, Marketo was finally able to meet up with McGregor when the Dragons came to town in Round 25 last year to face the Broncos.
While Brisbane would end the Red V's finals chances on that particular day, Marketo was on cloud nine after receiving a one-year contract a few weeks later.
"After I texted Mary, we kept in touch throughout year. When the Dragons played the Broncos I asked if I could go see him and he had no worries so I went and had a chat," Marketo said.
"I pretty much asked for a second chance and I wouldn't step a foot wrong and that I wanted to return home and wear the Red V again.
"About two weeks after he had put something together for me and I've just taken it with both hands, mate."
It has paid off handsomely for Marketo thus far, and with his father Michael by his side – who played alongside Paul Sironen, Benny Elias and Wayne Pearce in the Tigers' star-studded pack of the late-80s – Marketo has gone from strength-to-strength.
"Dad is probably the bloke who has kept me in line. When I was a bit younger I thought I was a bit of know-it-all but once I realised what I had to do he put his shadow over the top of me," Marketo said.
"He told me this is what needs to be done to get where you want to be. Obviously he's done it before me so I've listened to all the advice he's given me over the years.
"I look up to my old man a little bit. He's a very strong-minded person so any advice he gives me, he doesn't really speak unless something needs to be said, so when he talks I listen."
After taking part in the Dragons' annual Charity Shield clash and their venture to England for the World Club Challenge, Marketo has played the past four NRL games in the Red V jumper.
Now with the ladder-leading Broncos to come, Marketo believes the challenge is only getting harder but he's more than prepared for what lies ahead.
"I was able to gain confidence out of the Charity Shield. I was only supposed to play like 15 minutes but ended up getting around 50-60 minutes and then over in England, Tyson [Frizell] was knocked out early so I was able to get plenty of game time there as well," Marketo said.
"The challenges keep getting bigger so I just have to keep working on my game and keep improving and hopefully I can keep that spot in the team for the rest of the season."