Rookie sensation Harry Grant spent two years fighting first for his life, and then for his future. It helps explain the resolve that has made him one of the stars of the 2020 season.
The words have never left Paul Grant. Standing in a hospital corridor, he and wife Margie were being told to brace for the worst. There was every chance their youngest son Harry wouldn’t make it through the night.
“They prepared us for him to be brown bread in the hospital,” Paul Grant says.
“They thought he was dead. It was a harrowing time. It happened so quick. I was doing shift work at the time. He rang up and said he was crook.
“Two nights later he was in intensive care and they were saying he probably won’t get out of this. As you can understand, if you get told your youngest son isn’t going to see the night out at 12 years old, that will never leave you.
“I am very lucky. I have a real good mate who is a doctor – Scott Cooling. I bounced things off him for a little while. He was unreal.
“I reckon he was the bloke who got him through. He was telling me what I should be asking the doctor. He was giving me a heads up on what should and shouldn’t be happening. (Harry) was on antibiotics for almost five months.
“He had three operations on it to scrape the infection out of it. It was pretty intense stuff.”
Having staved off a staph infection and stared down the Pearly Gates, Harry Grant was confronted by another devastating setback not long after.
“Then the useless bugger tipped over an all-terrain vehicle – they were clubbies and they were mucking around at the beach,” Paul Grant recalls.
“It came down crashing on his leg. He had a compound fracture. She was swinging in the breeze. There wasn’t anything holding it – just a bit of tendon. He did a proper job on it.
“That was another 12 months.”
Terry Hansen, Grant’s former coach at St Brendan’s College Yeppoon, adds: “Get him to show you his leg — it is a horrific thing.”
Grant spent two years fighting first for his life, and then for his future. It helps explain the resolve that has made him one of the stars of the 2020 season.
For as long as anyone can remember, Grant would walk around with a football under one arm and a surfboard under the other.
When rugby league was taken away, surfing became his distraction. When his body was rebuilt, rugby league once again took priority.
“We are a footy family,” Paul Grant says. “We have four boys – they all play. The missus was a netballer but we talked her into it – she got her (rugby league) coach’s certificate.
“She coached them when they were little. Once they hit 11 or 12, I took over. We are a pretty hard family. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy.
“You see young blokes get a start and (stuff) it up by doing something silly. I just said to him you have the rest of your life to drink grog, you only have 10 years to play footy. He is switched on. He knows what he wants.”
Seemingly always has, although it hasn’t quite panned out exactly how Harry would have liked. Now might be a good time to look away if you are a Broncos supporter.
Grant grew up a Brisbane fan, worshipping at the altar of Darren Lockyer. The Broncos are going through some well-documented woes at the moment and the ensuing comments won’t lighten the mood.
“For a while there, I thought Darren Lockyer was his old man,” Paul Grant says.
“He loved them. He cherished the Broncos and Darren Lockyer. He would have played for them bastards for nothing. Not now though – got rid of all that Broncos stuff.”
Brisbane never took got wind of Grant’s affinity for the club. Instead, Melbourne recruitment guru Paul Bunn was the man who got the jump on his rivals.
To be fair, he had the inside running. Bunn has known the Grant family for as long as most can remember, well before Harry or any of his brothers were born.
“I have had a long association with the family – his mum, dad, aunties, uncles,” Bunn says.
“I am going back 30 or 40 years. My brother went out with his auntie and all that stuff. Then his dad came to town to play footy for the Yeppoon Seagulls and I was coaching there.
“I got to know Piggy (Paul Grant) really well. Harry’s uncle played in the team. When I went to Redcliffe I took his uncle and Piggy with me. He could play himself.
“He did nerve damage in his shoulder. He only played a couple of games. But those games he was on fire.
“He would have easily been one of the better players in the Brisbane comp. I remember when I was working at the Broncs I went over to watch (Harry) play an under 12 primary school competition.
“He got injured so I didn’t see much of him. But I saw plenty of him at barbecues around the place. He was always kicking a ball around in the backyard with his brothers and some friends. He was carving up them.
“He said to me I am going to play NRL when I grow up. I said if I am still working as a recruitment guy I will come back and sign you.
“When he got to 17, we put him on a contract at the Storm, He has been with us ever since.”
Bunn got regular updates as well through Hanson.
“He was in my first team for two years in grades 11 and 12,” Hanson said. “He was great for me. What Harry has always been good at – he is very good on the green lights.
“He will wait until there is a marker on the ground or someone has their back turned.
“He knows when to go and when not to go. I always thought he was pretty special. I had a gut feeling about Harry. When he was a kid, he went through some horrific stuff.
“He was fairly determined. We trained really hard up here. He still did extras.
“He had a dream and he was going to make it happen, no matter what.”
Grant has had to be patient, biding his time behind Cameron Smith at the Storm, using his time to watch, learn and hone his craft.
He has been a star in the Queensland Cup in recent years, playing for Melbourne’s feeder club and waiting for his chance. Remarkably, few rival clubs came knocking.
Grant’s patience finally wore out at the end of last year. With no end in sight for the ageless Smith, Grant and his long-time agent Col Davis approached the Storm in the off-season about a loan deal that would allow him to spend a year at the Wests Tigers.
“He came to us and said I am signed here for three more years, but I think I am ready to play above Queensland Cup,” Bunn says.
“He has a British passport and we sounded out some English clubs. That didn’t work out. So we found a bloke at the Tigers who used to work with us.
“Through a conversation with him we came up with a deal to play first grade.”
That bloke was Tigers recruitment analyst Scott Woodward.
“It was just a matter of getting an opportunity,” Paul Grant says.
“You hear a lot of people say when they talk about putting new teams in (the NRL) that there is not enough players.
“There are heaps of players in that Queensland Cup. I think if Harry had been with another club he would certainly have got a chance a lot earlier.
“When you are stuck behind the best No 9 in the world, what do you do.”
So good has Grant been, there has been talk of him leaving Melbourne if Smith decides to go round next year.
The Storm have no desire to let him go, but that won’t stop rivals beating a path to their door. The Tigers are keeping money aside just in case.
The Bulldogs are watching with interest. No doubt, other clubs are circling. Less than 10 games into his first grade career, Grant is being spoken about as a contender for the Queensland side later this year.
“He knows he is coming back,” Bunn says. “He wants to come back. He loves living in Melbourne. He will play State of Origin. He is Origin class. At some stage I would say he would be in a maroon jersey, it not this year than next year.
“He will end up in a green (and gold) jersey as well.”
The Storm’s determination to hold onto Grant won’t stop the questions being asked. Not when he keeps playing like he has.
Grant has been a revelation in a Tigers side that has infiltrated the top eight – he is running second behind North Queensland behemoth Jason Taumalolo in the Dally M Medal voting.
“I am sort of hoping Cameron Smith goes around again,” Paul Grant says. “He will get triple (the money) he is on. He will be right. Whatever happens, happens. It will work out.
“It is not all about the money. Melbourne have been good. He will be happy if he has to go back there.”
As for the prospect of his son playing Origin, Paul Grant is somewhat torn. He is a staunch NSW supporter, having been born south of the border.
The vast majority of the extended family is based in Port Macquarie. Harry considers the place a second home.
“I might have to wear my first Queensland jersey ever,” Paul said.
“I always said if one of them made it I would change my allegiance. That is the only way I will turn. Right through to grade 12 in high school, every time you saw him he would have footy in his hands.
“He has worked hard. It hasn’t been easy. He just wants it.”