This Qld jersey is for you, mate
MATT Gillett has always played in honour of Todd Parnell.
Never will that be more poignant than when he runs on to Etihad Stadium next Wednesday night, fulfilling his mate's childhood dream.
The relationship between Gillett and Parnell is a stirring story.
Childhood friends, they grew up sharing rides to training, sitting in the backseat dreaming of playing for Queensland and Australia.
They went to Morayfield High together, played their junior footy with the Bribie Island Warrigals and ended up together at Intrust Super Cup club the Norths Devils.
Parnell was the conscientious worker but the less naturally gifted of the pair. Gillett was the freak talent, the kind that made you say "wow".
His on-field exploits are still talked about by his junior coaches, yet he was the less motivated of the two.
Then, in July 2009, Parnell's life was ended when he was king-hit and killed outside the Bribie Island Leagues Club.
The event was an epiphany for Gillett and moved him to fulfil his tremendous potential. The next year he debuted for the Broncos and won the Dally M Rookie medal. Next week he will rise to another level with his Origin debut.
Parnell's mother Jenny Stirling said she could not be more proud of Gillett. In fact, you would be unlikely to find a person more proud of Gillett outside of his mother Debbie and father Peter.
"It's been absolutely emotional for me, thinking about what could have been," Stirling told The Daily.
"Todd would have absolutely loved what Matt's done. It was his dream too."
If you were looking for the person fourth-most proud of Gillett, you would probably find it in John Turner. He was the Broncos second-rower's coach at Morayfield High and for years has been telling everyone who would listen about Gillett's prodigious talent.
Gillett was a part of a Morayfield team that included fellow Bronco Jack Reed and former Brisbane and Warriors player Joel Moon. Even in that team he stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Turner still tells the story of a Broncos Challenge semi-final, in which Gillett single-handedly orchestrated a 10-point comeback against league powerhouse school Wavell Heights.
"Mark my words, we haven't seen the best of him yet," Turner said.
"At school he used to do the most incredible stuff, just outstanding. As a coach you'd say 'we didn't do that in training'. But he's always been doing those sorts of things."