IT was a day Adam Clune had dreamed about since he first picked up a footy as a kid.
His dream quickly became a nightmare as his St George Illawarra Dragons lost to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 22-2 in his first grade debut on Monday, which was also his 25th birthday.
"Getting told I was going to debut for such a great club, that I've come through the junior ranks with, was a very special moment and I'll never forget that phone call from coach Paul McGregor," the Albion Park-Oak Flats product said.
"It was great to have a long preparation time and get my head around the game.
"The support from my family, friends and everyone at the club as amazing and I can't thank them enough.
"Seeing the video the club put together with my parents, brothers and partner was quite emotional. It highlighted the journey I've been on to get here - they've all sacrificed a lot to get me to where I am today and for that, I'm extremely grateful.
"Obviously it was a vastly different debut than I'd dreamed about as a kid, with everything that's going on with the COVID-19 pandemic but that's all out of our control.
"However, after playing Canterbury Cup for so long, I'm used to playing in front of hardly any fans - that aspect didn't faze me too much.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get the result I'd hoped for, which was disappointing.
"In saying that, it was an experience I'll always cherish and will benefit me in the long run."
Clune will get a chance to build on his debut after retaining his spot in the Dragon's halves, alongside Queensland State of Origin player Ben Hunt, for this Sunday's local derby with Cronulla-Sutherland.
"Ben's a great player and really helped my development," the Group Seven junior said.
"He's played at the highest level for a long time and also willing to help me better myself as a player.
"Us two, just like everyone else in our side, know we need to be better this weekend.
"I was obviously a little nervous going into the debut but now that's under the belt, I'm confident Ben and I can start to build a strong partnership in the halves.
"I'll definitely be looking to be more dominant with the ball this week - if I do that, I'm sure it'll help others produce performances I know they're capable of and make their jobs easier."
The club obviously sees the former Shellharbour Shark as a long-term option, handing him a two-year extension last week - capping off a rollercoaster week for the former Junee Diesel.
"I was surprised to be approached by the club this early - it [contract extension] wasn't something I'd given too much thought to," he said.
"This is my first year with the top grade and I haven't really been in this position before but I'm extremely thankful the club has shown faith in me.
"I'm not focusing too much on the future, rather what I can do to help the club be successful.
"If that means I'm at this great club for years to come, so be it, but my main focus is getting our first victory on Sunday."
If the win-less Dragons are to turn things around at Campbelltown Stadium, they are going to have to score tries - which hasn't happened the past two rounds.
"From an attacking perspective, it's about coming together as a group and getting every individual to nail their role," Clune, who squashed rumours there's a rift in the playing group, said.
"We know we are capable of scoring points.
"Once we get one, I'm sure the floodgates will open - there's too much quality in our team to not score points.
"A win isn't too far away and we're confident we can repay everyone's faith with a win on Sunday."