WHAT a difference a year can make.
This time 12 months ago, St George Illawarra Dragons coach Steve Price told Nick Emmett he would get first crack at filling the centre position vacated by Mark Gasnier.
Buoyed by the opportunity, Emmett trained the house down in preparation for the round one clash with Newcastle - but he never got to wear the famous Red V proudly on his chest in that game ... or ever again.
A back injury at training not only ruled him out of the season, it also signalled the end of his NRL career after only 41 games.
Emmett parted ways with the Dragons at season's end after playing only 24 games since moving from the Broncos in 2009.
He had played 17 times for Brisbane, making his debut against Cronulla in 2006.
Fast forward to today and you will discover the 30-year-old Emmett is preparing to tackle, not a player in training or in a game, but a new career and a life well away from the glamour of being an NRL player.
Emmett, who scored three tries in his NRL career, is working as a labourer to help pay the bills.
He had been hoping to get a better-paying job in the mines, but he's discovered that like the NRL, there are many other people chasing that same dream.
Although he can now be found with a shovel in his hand rather than a rugby league ball, Emmett said he was a grateful he at least had a chance to play rugby league at the top level.
"Injuries haven't been kind to me throughout my career, that's for sure, and last season was a personal nightmare," he said.
"Even when I got over my back injury, I still ended up in hospital having surgery after I got blood clot in my neck playing in reserve grade.
"That ruled me out of the grand final, meant I couldn't enjoy Mad Monday, or go on the end of season trip to Las Vegas - but hey, life goes on and at least I am healthy now - touch wood," he said with a laugh.
Emmett said he still "popped in" to see his former teammates at training now and again - being on civvy street was going to take a bit of getting used to.
"It's time for me to join the real world and a get a job," Emmett, who said, depending on how his neck heals, may play for the Illawarra Cutters in NSW Cup later this season.
"Good bye life of an NRL player and hello reality."
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