How Crowe’s Cinderella Man boxing ring inspired the fighter in Dylan Edwards

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“He had a couple of amateur fights and went well and would train three nights a week religiously, tagging along with his good mate Joe Taylor, who fought for NSW and Australian titles. Dylan had a couple of wins early in the piece. If he persisted with it, he would have been a smart boxer. From memory, he was a very good counter-puncher.”

Only this week, Paul Gallen said he would “smash” any current NRL player in the boxing ring as he eyes one last fight before retiring. Matt Lodge wants to raise $1 million for charity through public donations to step into the ring against Gallen. On Friday, his GoFundMe was up to $1900.

The Cinderella Man fight night featuring a teenage Dylan Edwards.

The Cinderella Man fight night featuring a teenage Dylan Edwards.

Perhaps Gallen’s biggest threat would be one teammates have taken to nicknaming “Cyclone Dyl”.

Asked about his boxing prowess, a humble Edwards cuts off the question before it’s even finished, knowing it’s going to involve talking about himself.

“No, mate,” he says. “No. I used to do a little bit when I was younger just for fitness and I had a mate who was really handy at it. I would tag along with him and he would be my lift home.”

But this year, Edwards has finally emerged from the shadows of his more extroverted and naturally gifted teammates to be the rock on which Penrith’s title defence has been built.

Fullback has become such a glamorous position in the modern game, the stars that wear the No.1 are usually only known by one name.

Teddy. Latrell. Turbo. Ponga. They’re like those Brazilian soccer players, whose names roll sweetly off the tongue. They always seemed cooler than everyone else. Same goes for the modern day NRL fullback, while Warren Ryan bemoans the demise of the halfback, saying good ones are “as rare as rocking horse s–t”.

Then there’s Dylan Edwards.

“We get more tips than a porcupine,” Penrith’s veteran recruitment guru Jim Jones jokes. “But we got sent a video of him and brought him down.

“I remember I used to go down to Gloria Jean’s and he was working there. I didn’t like the coffee, but I was going down there to have a caramel latte. My wife was into me, ‘are you going down there just to talk to Dylan Edwards?’ I just said, ‘yeah, I am’.

“And you just had to end up picking him on his training ethic. It was just his competitiveness and toughness. In the end, it just stood out.”

His opposite in the grand final qualifier, Latrell Mitchell, has returned from a rehabilitation stint in the United States as the ultimate showman. He was accused of diving for penalties, and called himself Trell Milk. He won his second straight finals games at the new Sydney Football Stadium, and joked it should be renamed Trellianz Stadium. Crowe was never as much box office gold.

But the only time Edwards ever wants his voice to be heard is when he’s shouting at teammates to organise the competition’s best defensive line – which is just fine by him, and the Panthers. He’s not the NRL’s best fullback, but he’s the best fit for Penrith.

Dylan Edwards celebrates with Panthers teammates.

Dylan Edwards celebrates with Panthers teammates.Credit:Getty

“I’m just more comfortable now,” says Edwards, who is an outside chance of winning the Dally M Medal from Ben Hunt and Nicho Hynes. “I’m glad we’ve got a lot of superstars in our team. I don’t mind that.

“I enjoy the environment we’ve got here. I love running out with a bunch of guys who have got the same goal as you’ve got every day. You can feel that. And if I had my way, mate, I’ll be here for a while.”

Don’t worry, he will.

In years to come, it’s likely few outside the four walls at Penrith will be recounting one of the most heroic grand final performances in the modern era. If not quite in the same street, it should at least be in the same postcode as Sattler and Burgess, Cronk and Kenny-Dowall.

But because it’s Dylan Edwards, he would rather it be forgotten.

On the morning of Penrith’s grand final win last year, Edwards shadowed his teammates on crutches and wearing a moon boot for their traditional team walk. Only Ivan Cleary, his coaching staff and medical team, and Edwards’ Penrith teammates knew how serious the fullback’s plight was. He had been playing the whole finals series with a stress fracture in his foot, which was getting worse with each game.

Brian To’o rocked up to the team’s media session in grand final week in a wheelchair, poking fun at an ankle problem he was battling. The cameras revelled in it. Hiding in plain sight was the Panthers’ real problem with their No.1.

The day before the game, Ivan Cleary and his medical staff watched Edwards being put through a fitness test under instruction from the club’s former performance guru Hayden Knowles. Knowles knew the longer the test went, the less chance Edwards would be of playing.

He stopped the session midway through and called Edwards in, far enough away so the watching assessors couldn’t hear.

“You’re the toughest bloke I know, are you playing and do you want to play?”

Edwards looked at him.

“Yeah, I want to play.”

Knowles put a stop to the test.

Dylan Edwards played last year’s grand final with a stress fracture in his foot.

Dylan Edwards played last year’s grand final with a stress fracture in his foot.Credit:Getty

“I just turned around to the medical team and said, ‘he’s in’,” Knowles laughs. “Then back to Dylan I said, ‘go and put the f–—’ boot on and get out of here’. The doctor wanted to put more load into it to test it out. I said, ‘if you put more load into it he won’t walk for days’.”

The next night, Edwards limped through the warm-up and then gritted his teeth for 80 minutes.

“The real fighter mentality, nothing breaks them,” Knowles says. “That grand final week, it came out again.”

Edwards returned to pre-season training after recovering from the foot fracture and promptly went about winning every fitness test he competed in.

This year, no player in the NRL has run the ball more times than Edwards. Only Tedesco has carried it for more metres, and even then they are miles ahead of Joseph Tapine, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Clint Gutherson.

Now, he’s 80 minutes away from a third straight grand final appearance.

“He’s one of those players you just love playing alongside,” To’o says. “He’s a real confidence booster for me. He does the little things and the hard yards and is someone who puts his body on the line. The boys thrive off that. The way he plays, that’s a team player. It’s what we love about him.”

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On Saturday night at Accor Stadium, he will concede height, weight and the small matter of 260,000 Instagram followers to Mitchell. To every person not wearing black, there will only be one fullback to focus on.

But that’s just how the Cinderella kid likes it.

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