Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan will play his 100th NSW match on Saturday at the SCG, a fitting setting for a player who embodies state loyalty.
Born and raised in Tamworth, Ryan knew how he wanted to play rugby professionally as a 10-year-old, dreaming of playing Shute Shield club, Sydney Uni, and the Waratahs.
That he was able to get one game, let alone notch 100 NSW appearances, is something he cherishes.
“All the people who have contributed to my journey, I’m really super proud that I’ve been able to represent them and they’ve been able to be part of it, and they’ll be able to be a part of it tomorrow night,” he said.
Passionate about his state, it’s appropriate his milestone coincides with a match so steeped in history as the Waratahs’ first match at the SCG since 1983.
Though there’s always bite in the rivalry, Ryan remembers the most ferocity just after Berrick Barnes’s move south, a defection that made him Queensland enemy number one.
Barnes was the target of sledging that Ryan says ‘wasn’t play on’ in Queensland, something that made the ensuing interstate clashes even more fiery.
“He used to cop a lot of heat, so I remember (former Waratahs captain) Phil Waugh using that as motivation and I remember it really resonating with me because my first game up there, people were saying stuff to Berrick that was just not play on.
“Then Phil Waugh brings that up later, it gives you a bit more of a burning desire.”
Though there isn’t a particular target any more, Ryan said that had by no means dimmed the rivalry.
“I think the thing with the Reds-Waratahs thing is that Queenslanders and New South Welshmen hate each other, it’s in their DNA,” he said.
“You hate each other when it comes to sport.
“One of the greatest things about sport and particularly tomorrow night it’s no holds barred.”
Rob Simmons is the latest Queenslander at the Waratahs and though he’s unlikely to receive a frosty reception, Ryan tips he’ll be hungry for his first interstate battle in the sky blue.
“There’s no way they’re going easy on each other.
“So, people who read the media or watch the ads or are fairly influenced by that stuff may feel that the rivalry’s not as strong as it has been.
“But for us, to play against your mates, there’s no greater rivalry than that and it’s in your DNA to hate Queenslanders when it comes to sport and we do.”
Ryan’s milestone week has been a busy one – organising some 30 tickets for family and friends and waiting for the latest photo to come through on the team WhatsApp as a marker of his upcoming ton – but now it is time for him to relax.
“After captain’s run, just settle into match day prep,” he said.
“It’s been a funny week until now but now we try to make sure you can keep that same routine going that’s been working for the last seven or eight weeks.”
Whether it is one of his final interstate matches remains to be seen, with the 29-year-old off contract at the end of 2018 and keeping an open mind on his options.
One thing that is certain is he isn’t taking any of his time for granted.
“I love playing with my mates, guys I’ve been playing with since I was a kid, guys like Damien Fitzpatrick, Kurtley Beale, Fanga (Nick Phipps), Bernard (Foley), I love doing that.
“I’m very privileged to play for such a great team.”