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    How a sliding doors moment led to one of NRL’s youngest players choosing the sport over another

    How a sliding doors moment led to one of rugby league’s youngest players choosing the sport over another passion – and why he faces his biggest challenge in this year’s Grand Final

    • Penrith Panthers centre Stephen Crichton is one of the NRL’s brightest stars
    • Teen almost gave rugby league away several years ago to pursue another sport
    • His father told him to stick with rugby league and hasn’t looked back since
    • Crichton will play in Sunday’s grand final with possible Origin debut on the cards

    One of the brightest stars in the NRL has opened up of how he almost ditched rugby league for another passion before his dad intervened. 

    Penrith young gun Stephen Crichton could become a premiership star at the age of 19 if the Panthers beat Melbourne Storm in the NRL decider in Sydney on Sunday night.

    The Samoan-born centre has become one of the code’s young guns since bursting onto the NRL scene last season and is tipped to make his State of Origin debut for the NSW Blues on November 4.

    But it’s also been a tough journey for Crichton, who almost never played rugby league because his parents couldn’t afford the junior registration fees.

    The multi-talented sports star considered walking away from league in his final years at school at Patrician Brothers Blacktown to pursue other interests before his religious bus driver dad advised him to stick to footy. 

    Va’a Crichton (left) is proud of his son Stephen, one of the Penrith Panthers’ brightest stars

    Footage from several years ago shows Crichton was also a naturally-talented basketballer who uses his 193 centimetre height to slam dunk as good as the best of them.

    ‘Coming from school in year 11 and 12, our basketball coach told me I could really make the NBL but my dad just wanted me to play footy,’ Crichton told Nine News.

    ‘So yeah, I just play basketball on the side now.’ 

    He recently revealed how close he came to making the switch.

    ‘I had one mate who went to America and he was talking to me about taking basketball serious, because he reckons that I can take that path as well and go a far way with that,’ Crichton told nrl.com.au in September.

    ‘I was thinking about it. I had a trial for schoolboys Australia basketball and a trial for Australian Schoolboys rugby league as well.’

    Crichton also had a natural AFL ability and even trialled the Greater Western Sydney Giants.

    But again dad Va’a had the final say and told his son to stick to with rugby league.

    Footage of Crichton's basketball ability has emerged

    Crichton' slam-dunking ability is as good as anyone's

    In his final years at school, Crichton was told by coaches he had a natural ability (pictured) to play in the National Basketball League. His dad told him to stick to footy and the rest is history

    When Crichton was two, his parents Sina and Va’a ditched their jobs at an onion factory in Apia, Samoa and moved their growing family initially to New Zealand and then Australia, where they settled in the Mount Druitt area. 

    Now a church pastor at the Rooty Hill Assembly of God, Va’a is also one of western Sydney’s best-known bus drivers.

    ‘Everyone knows who my dad is as he’s the one that drives the bus in the Penrith hat,’ Crichton said.

    ‘He loves talking to people. he’s always coming to me, saying ‘ this family came on, saying good luck to me.’

    ‘He’s always praying for me every time we play.’ 

    Everyone knows the bus driver in the Penrith Panthers hat is Stephen Crichton's dad Va'a

    Everyone knows the bus driver in the Penrith Panthers hat is Stephen Crichton’s dad Va’a

    Va’a had this grand final message for his son.

    ‘You can’t get any reward without suffering,’ he told Nine News 

    ‘So we believe there’s a secret power behind everything. That’s why we have a strong belief in God.’

    Crichton still lives at home with his parents and gives most of his NRL cheque to them.

    With a new contract beckoning, Crichton plans to buy them a house in appreciation for everything he’s done for them. 

    Stephen Crichton (pictured at Panthers training this week) almost chose basketball over footy

    Stephen Crichton (pictured at Panthers training this week) almost chose basketball over footy

    ‘My parents weren’t wealthy as much as they are now when they were in Samoa,’ Crichton told nrl.com.au.

    ‘They didn’t have enough to raise four kids there. And then my little brother and sister came when we were here. Full credit to my Mum and Dad. Every time I talk to them about it, I get emotional.’

    His older brother Christian, who has also played NRL with the Canterbury Bulldogs added: ‘We’re grateful for everything we have. We didn’t have much growing up but we had enough; we had our family, each other.’

    Stephen Crichton (right) and teammate Brian To'o hope to lead Penrith to victory on Sunday

    Stephen Crichton (right) and teammate Brian To’o hope to lead Penrith to victory on Sunday

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