After managing just one appearance off the bench in an abortive maiden season with Melbourne, Daniel Atkinson feared his NRL dream might be over as soon as it had begun.

The Queensland-born playmaker was released by the Storm at the end of 2021 and returned to his home state, where he busied himself in a trade.

Atkinson was mixing carpentry with playing for the Sunshine Coast Falcons when he took a call from Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon and the club’s general manager of football Darren Mooney.

“I haven’t looked back,” he said.

The 23-year-old admits there were “definitely” times he thought a future as a professional rugby league player had passed him by.

“Going to work at 6.30 and then going to train, I’m like, ‘Geez it’s getting tough’,” he said.

“But boys do it their whole life.”

Despite playing in all three of Italy’s group games at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup, Atkinson — who qualifies for the European nation through his mother — had to wait until Sunday’s crushing victory over Canberra for his first NRL start.

He was called into the Sharks squad at late notice to fill the unfamiliar five-eighth role vacated by Braydon Trindall, who was sidelined after his midweek drink-driving charges.

While Atkinson failed to trouble the scorers, the debutant proved a more than capable sidekick for his red-hot halves partner Nicho Hynes.

The pair dovetailed well as the ladder-leading Sharks cruised to a 40-0 victory.

Hynes was scintillating — scoring two tries, assisting three more and breaking five tackles — while Atkinson was organised, error-free.

“He kept it simple. That was the role we had for him,” coach Fitzgibbon said after the match.

“He got his kicking game when needed. He managed to find some runs out of nowhere, he almost poked his nose through the line a couple of times.

“But to walk into a team in the space of a week and find some connection with Nicho, I thought that was pretty impressive.”

Atkinson and Hynes overlapped while at the Storm during 2021.

“When I first came to the Sharks, he was the first bloke I knew so we’ve got a good connection,” Atkinson said.

With the stood-down Trindall potentially set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines, Fitzgibbon said Atkinson had done enough to make the role his own.

The rookie halfback is eager to make the most of his opportunity, even as he continues to work on his carpentry skills outside the game.

“I’m trying to get TAFE started, just doing a bit of theory here and there when I’ve got some time off,” he said.

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