“I’m just going to try and enjoy every minute of it.”
For 27-year-old Mark Kheirallah – a rugby league journeyman in every sense of the word – the opportunity of a lifetime is just hours away.
The Sydney-born fullback, who has played club rugby league in Australia and France will, on Friday evening, face the star-studded Kangaroos – the best team in the world.
Understandably, Kheirallah – who is representing France at this year’s Rugby League World Cup – is itching for the game to start.
“Growing up, the Kangaroos were my idols,” he told The New Daily.
“[They are] the best players in the world. It’s just massive.”
Kheirallah never got the chance to impress in Australia, playing just one NRL match – for the Sydney Roosters in 2011 – before being discarded.
“It was unbelievable for a 21-year-old,” he recalled.
“I busted my arse [to get there]. When I eventually got the call-up it was just a mad rush. It’s a whole other level.”
The Roosters lost 38-12 to the Canberra Raiders, and Kheirallah, who came through the ranks at South Sydney, never got another crack.
He admitted he fell out of love with the sport after that, before a teammate at NSW Cup club Newtown helped engineer a move to French side Toulouse that would change his life forever.
“I didn’t have anything going for the next year, so I thought why not,” he said.
“It’s really hard to put into words because it’s different.
“I kind of felt like when I was in Australia, I lost the love of playing rugby league and going over there has rekindled it.
“The challenges over the past five years have kept things interesting going along, like learning a new language and eating new food, experiencing new cultures. It’s just been terrific.”
Toulouse plays within the English rugby league system, and in Kheirallah’s time at the club, it was promoted from the third tier to the Championship – one level below the English Super League.
Kheirallah, who also has Egyptian heritage, received the chance to play for France this year through residency.
He played against Jamaica last month, before featuring for France in the first round of the World Cup, when Les Chanticleers were beaten 29-18 by Lebanon.
He says he is fiercely passionate about playing for France and that his debut was a very proud moment.
“I told the boys the night before we played Lebanon what it meant for me to wear the mighty red, white and blue,” he said.
“France has given me a lot in the last five years – my lifestyle, my career and the rewards that I’ve reaped.
“This is a terrific opportunity to give back to a country that’s given me so much … I feel very honoured to play for France.”
Next up for France is a clash against Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk et al at GIO Stadium on Friday evening.
It won’t be easy but for Kheirallah, it is a massive chance to show what he can do on a national stage.
And come match day, he will take nothing for granted.
He has fought for years for this chance.
Australia v France, broadcast live on Channel Seven, kicks off at 8pm (AEDT), Friday, November 3.