By Tony Webeck (NRL.com)
He was one of the NRL's high-flyers last weekend courtesy of a spectacular try against the Warriors but 12 months ago Dragons forward Jake Marketo was living with his nan and packaging pet food in a Brisbane factory.
A captain of the Dragons under-20s team in 2009, Marketo was unwanted by St George Illawarra at the end of the 2012 season and was forced to head to Queensland where he spent two seasons with Intrust Super Cup club the Redcliffe Dolphins.
He returns to Brisbane on Friday night to make his maiden NRL appearance at Suncorp Stadium with a Dragons team brimming with confidence on the back of two convincing wins over the Knights and Warriors.
Marketo's first NRL try since Round 10, 2012 was a spectacular effort from a Mitch Rein cross-field kick that sparked the Dragons into scoring four tries in 11 minutes but the 26-year-old is keeping his feet well and truly grounded.
You have to when packaging raw food for animals to eat is a part of your recent past.
"When I look back on my time with the Dolphins it was more a lot of life lessons," Marketo tells NRL.com.
"When I was younger I didn't learn anything away from footy besides footy and it ended up catching up to me in the end and I had to go up there and get a real job.
"I worked at a place called Big Dog which was a bit of an eye-opener for me. It was a pet food factory and I was there for two years and obviously played footy at Redcliffe.
"I was up at 10-to-5 every morning, driving down from the Sunny Coast where I lived with my nan and drove down to Strathpine and started working at 7.00am.
"I worked until whenever we finished between 3.30pm and 5.00pm and then I'd have to go to training three days a week and if I didn't have to train I'd go straight home and try and have a little relax before it all started again the next day.
"I worked in the raw foods part so I was pretty much in the thick of it all. I've got a bit of a weak stomach so there were times there at work where I'd have to run outside, but those days are gone now which is good and I get to concentrate on playing footy for a living.
"Instead of whinging to get up and go running in the morning – which I used to do when I was young because I didn't have the best attitude – now I'm looking forward to it."
A Dragons game at Suncorp Stadium against the Broncos last year provided the backdrop to Marketo's return to the NRL as he pleaded with recently appointed coach Paul McGregor for a second shot at the big time.
If the McGregors and Marketos weren't such good family friends who knows whether Jake would have been granted a meeting with the coach in the first place, but once they sat down he laid himself bare.
"I put everything on the table," Marketo recalls.
"'Mary' (McGregor) is good mates with my old man so once I found out that he was going to be in charge I saw him at the end of the 2014 season when they played Brisbane up here and I went and explained myself to him.
"I thought I'd just go and see him and explain to him that I'd learnt my lesson and I'd love to come down and have a second chance.
"Sure enough he came back to me with a piece of paper saying I was allowed to come back down and I took my opportunity and I'm lucky enough to be able to play first grade with this great club and I'm still here for a couple more years so I'm very happy with how things have turned out."
Having been granted a contract extension for next season in June, Marketo last week put pen to paper on a deal that keeps him at the Dragons until the end of the 2017 season, giving him two more seasons to make good on the promise he made to McGregor at the start of pre-season training.
"He just said, 'You're here now, it's time to live up to what you said to me when we had the meeting'," says Marketo, who counts Trent Merrin and Dan Hunt among his closest mates.
"He said to put my words into actions and hopefully I've done that and I'll continue to do it."