‘Surreal’ NRL debut still a haze for Eels winger Dunster

It was in the corresponding semi-final last season that Haze Dunster made one of the more unusual NRL debuts.

Parramatta had already been rocked by a spate of injuries to their outside backs, including to winger Maika Sivo, in the lead-up to their clash with South Sydney. And then a fresh disaster struck: on the morning of the game, Michael Jennings was sensationally ruled out following a positive drugs test.

Dunster was blissfully unaware of the Jennings development when his phone rang that Saturday morning.

“I was expecting a nice sleep in and my phone started ringing at 7am,” Dunster recalled.

“I was going to leave it, because who needs me at 7am? I just had a quick peek at it and it was [coach] Brad [Arthur], so I quickly got out of bed and answered.

“He asked if I was ready to play footy and I was really confused.

“I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I guess.’

“He was like, ‘Well are you?’”

Haze Dunster is wrapped up by the Rabbitohs during a tough NRL debut last season.Credit:Getty

To make sure Dunster was in a fit state to make his top-grade debut, Arthur asked him if he had been drinking the night before. The answer came back negative, but Dunster did have to confess that he had spent the night eating popcorn while watching the Will Ferrell movie Blades of Glory.

Sworn to keep his selection a secret from everyone but close family, Dunster believes finding out in such bizarre circumstances turned out to be a blessing.

“It was crazy,” he said. “In the arvo I took some time to myself and thought about how surreal it was. I’d been dreaming about it for so long and then it just came up out of nowhere.

“I think it was the best thing for me that it popped up out of nowhere.

“If I did find out a couple of days earlier, I would have been stressing a lot more, been a lot more nervous.

“I hate thinking about games because it plays on my mind. It’s the best thing for me the way it happened.”

Having performed admirably on his opening night, Dunster – now armed with 14 first grade games of experience – will enjoy a more conventional preparation for this weekend’s semi-final against Penrith. It will still be a huge occasion for his family, which extends to include distant cousin Benji Marshall. Dunster’s dad, Rob, would even drop a young Marshall to school at Keebra Park High on occasion during a work stint on the Gold Coast.

“Haze’s great grandmother and Benji’s grandfather are brother and sister,” Rob Dunster said. “We have big reunions back home [in New Zealand] with the Marshalls.

“Haze always looked up to him; he calls Benj his uncle.”

To Haze, Marshall remains an inspiration.

“I remember how big he was when I was younger,” Dunster said. “We’d go down to the touch fields and play with all the family members, it was crazy.

“His footwork was crazy and all of us used to imitate him when we were younger. He was a big influence on us.”

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