THERE was a time, not so long ago, when Dale Copley’s ascension to the Queensland Origin side seemed inevitable.
Most members of Queensland’s Emerging Origin squad silently pray they are just one bumper season away from a call-up to the Maroons’ senior team.
Copley has been part of the Emerging Origin squad for the past two years.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters has rated him highly ever since Copley burst onto the scene as a try-scoring machine in the Broncos’ under-20s ranks in 2009.
With the Maroons on the hunt for a left centre for the 2017 series following the season-ending loss of Greg Inglis (knee), Copley should be among the next wave of Emerging stars ready to fill the void.
But ask the man himself and Copley isn’t daring to dream.
He displays the admirable pragmatism of a man trying to rebuild his career at the Titans after being offloaded by two clubs – Brisbane and the Roosters – in the past 18 months.
“Right now, Origin is not a goal for me,” says Copley, who was thrown a lifeline by the Titans in March.
“Look, I’m like any kid from Queensland. I loved watching Origin. But I have to be honest – a few months ago, I was at the Roosters playing NSW Cup.
“It’s a cliche players will throw up these days, saying: ‘Yeah, I’d love to play Origin’, but that’s not realistic for me.
“If you ask any kid playing rugby league, they would say it’s a career goal to be in that Origin arena. That’s why Origin is so important to the people of Queensland.
“But the only choice I have right now is to play well for the Titans.
“I really need to knuckle down and make sure I have a spot at the Titans long-term.
“In 12 months or two years, if I’ve played every game and I’m in good form, it might be a genuine goal. But at the moment, playing for Queensland is not on my radar.”
The boy from Ingham is just pleased to be on the field again after a torrid battle with a slew of injuries.
In eight seasons, Copley has tallied just 91 games. He’s strained hamstrings, fractured his leg and succumbed to a patellar tendon injury which wiped out his entire 2013 season.
Since his Broncos debut in 2009, Copley has played more than 20 games in a season just once – in 2014, a brilliant campaign in which he scored 16 tries to pique the interest of Queensland selectors.
But the following season, he managed just nine games, was cut by the Broncos and forced to pick up the pieces at the Roosters.
For some, it would be enough to end a career. But through his hardships, Copley stayed strong.
“I’ve never thought about quitting,” Copley says.
“I haven’t counted my injuries … I wouldn’t have enough fingers to count them all.
“The knee was the hardest one, just the whole thing around completing a whole pre-season (in 2013) and then not playing the rest of the year. That was the hardest one to come back from.
“With modern medicine today, the way you can get back from injuries is pretty remarkable. By nature, I’m an optimist and that’s been a blessing going through the injuries, it’s never got me too down.
“Obviously I don’t want them to happen, but staying positive has been good for my headspace.”
Copley has been in the NRL for so long it is easy to forget he is still only 25.
There is still time aplenty to finally wear Maroon. His Origin dream is not dead just yet.
“I’m enjoying my time at the Titans,” he said.
“It’s a really exciting time for the club, we are dealing with a heavy injury toll, but look at where the club has come the last 12 months and the recruitment that has gone on.
“The direction the club is heading, it’s an exciting place to be and I’m excited to see what we can achieve as a club in the next few years.
“I don’t like to plan too much into the future after what’s happened to me the last couple of years but south-east Queensland is home and if the opportunity presented itself, staying here for the long haul would be great.
“But I never plan too far ahead … that’s one thing I’ve learned.”