A year ago, the name Jacob Kiraz was unheard of by the casual rugby league fan. Flash forward just under a year after his NRL debut, and the winger holds an unlikely Dally M lead.
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs unearthed a talent last season in Kiraz, but not even they realised what they had on their hands at the time.
Kiraz joined the club on a train-and-trial after a stint with Newcastle's NSW Cup side, however the deceptively strong outside back wasn't promoted to the top 30.
In fact, he required an NRL exemption to make his Round 7, 2022 debut against the Brisbane Broncos, and wasn't permitted to play again until Round 11, when players outside the top 30 are eligible for selection.
He hasn't missed a game for the first-grade side since.
Currently atop the Dally M leaderboard thanks to a strong showing against Melbourne, head coach Cameron Ciraldo wishes the whole squad had his mentality.
“Jacob is a winner – he will fight to win anything,” Ciraldo said after the win over the Storm.
“He's what we want to build the Bulldogs on, someone like that.
“I'm really happy with the way Jacob played, but I'm not surprised by it. That's the way he trains every day, it's the way he prepares, and it's why he hates losing.
“If we can get everyone having that mentality then we are going to be a hard team to beat.”
When The Sydney Morning Herald posed that very quote to the winger, Kiraz was blown away from the heaped-on praise.
“I didn't know he said that – jeez that's not bad from the coach is it?” Kiraz told the publication.
“Every game I play, I go out there to win. I play with all my heart, it's pretty simple.
“I love this club and Cam's been massive for me, he's helped with my development so much since coming here. He's given us all the tools to go out and win for this club.”
A breakout season from Jacob Kiraz! 💿 pic.twitter.com/SH4mGFSSlz
— Bulldogs Kennel (@BulldogsKennel) December 1, 2022
It's a stunning rise for the 21-year-old, who went from a $1000-a-week train-and-trial deal to playing for Lebanon at the World Cup alongside fellow NRL stars Mitchell Moses, Adam Doueihi and Josh Mansour.
With Stephen Crichton set to join the club as a fullback next season, the Bulldogs have their back three set for years between Kiraz, Crichton and Josh Addo-Carr.
What makes it even more stunning is Kiraz's journey to first-grade. All the best youngsters in the game have some sort of tag accompanying them, whether it be 'former Australian Schoolboys star' or 'played Under 19s Origin', not Kiraz though.
“When I was younger I didn't get picked for Harold Matts or anything like that,” Kiraz said.
“As a kid, you get heartbroken, but I just kept going. I don't know if there were doubts – I always knew I had the ability, I just needed the opportunity. I just worked my arse off.
What a year it has been for Jacob Kiraz 🤯 And now he has an NRL hat-trick under his belt 😎 pic.twitter.com/BOiHXOHmsC
— The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup (@NSWCup) August 1, 2022
“So now you see me back at my junior club, it means the world to me.
“My mum and dad, when I left home as a young kid, it's not really common in our culture to leave home.
“It means the world to my brothers, my sisters, all my cousins are all Bulldogs fans. I've moved back into my old bedroom and I won't be moving now until I'm married.”
The winger will line up opposite Marcelo Montoya at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with the New Zealand Warriors' winger coming off a near career-best match.