Nine years ago, Fahmy Marah and younger brother Ishraf were teased by friends for playing with a "weird oval toy" instead of a football at their neighbourhood playground.
But they ignored the taunts, focusing instead on mastering the art of passing and receiving a rugby ball.
Nobody is laughing at them any more, as the duo are set to be the first siblings to play for the Singapore national 15s team since the Rong brothers, Jing Xiang and Jing Xing, in the early 2000s.
Fahmy, 25, and Ishraf, 19, are expected to feature in the pivotal fly-half and scrum-half roles respectively in an Asian Five Nations (AFN) play-off away to the United Arab Emirates tomorrow.
"It's my biggest wish come true to play alongside my brother - I'll be there to guide him in his first cap, just like we always talked about," said Fahmy, who impressed in his international debut at the Asian Tri-Nations last August.
Owing to a restructuring of the AFN series, the Reds will play only one match this season, instead of a week-long tournament like in previous years.
They must win the clash in Dubai to stay in Division One, just one rung below the premier level that features heavyweights Japan and Hong Kong.
A defeat by the hosts - a largely expatriate outfit who were relegated from the top tier - will see Singapore drop to the second division, which they won last year.
While it may be a risky move to start with debutant Ishraf, Singapore coach Inoke Afeaki was impressed with his ball-handling and playmaking skills in recent tune-ups against local clubs.
"The kid has shown he's pretty switched on to the 15s game," said the former Tonga captain, 40.
"Most importantly, he's got no fear and a good understanding of how a match flows, which is what I'm looking for in my players."
Perhaps all those hours spent honing their talent at the Pasir Ris playground many years ago have paid off for the brothers.
Ishraf feels that he shares a telepathic understanding with his elder sibling - a crucial factor in the 9-10 combination that is the fulcrum of a rugby side.
"Just by looking at him sometimes, I know the kind of pass he expects from me or how the move will proceed," said the Republic Polytechnic graduate who, like Fahmy, progressed through the Anglo-Chinese School rugby programme.
There may be another Marah in the national ranks soon, as their other sibling Rifqi, 22, was also invited to train with the Republic's Under-23 team.
For now, all eyes are on Ishraf, among five debutants in the 23-man squad that left for Dubai yesterday.
The Reds, who are skippered by veteran No. 8 Peter McFeely, have key first-team players such as forwards Gaspar Tan, Simon Etheredge and centre Sidney Kumar ruled out through injury.
Fresh from his stint with the Asia Pacific Dragons at the Hong Kong 10s last month, Jay-Hykel Jailani is also looking to impress in his first cap.
But his coach had some harsh words for the 20-year-old winger, who will not start the match.
Inoke said: "We know his ability is there but he's not as eager as he should be on the field.
"I'm waiting for his interest to pique - at the moment, he's a little bit quiet."
The comments seemed to irk Jay-Hykel, who pointed to three tries in as many friendlies as evidence of his good form.
He said: "The other coaches and my team-mates said I'm doing well.
"Inoke must expect a lot from me so I will do my best to prove to him that I deserve to wear the Singapore jersey."
This article was published on April 22 in The Straits Times.
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