WHERE did it all go wrong for Jordan Rhodes? The 26-year-old will marry his fiancee Emma at a ceremony in Ipswich in a month's time, with the pair jetting off for a sun-drenched honeymoon in the Maldives shortly afterwards. The lovebirds have only just moved into a swish new house within easy striking distance of Middlesbrough's training ground, where he will turn up each day next season as a Barclays Premier League superstar, having started to repay his exorbitant £9million transfer fee from Blackburn Rovers in January with six priceless goals as 'Boro returned to the big time for the first time in seven years. Let's just say all this has softened the blow somewhat when it comes to his non-inclusion in Gordon Strachan's Scotland squad for the friendly double header against Italy and France.

"I'm getting married in about a month's time, I've got a honeymoon booked, I've got the Premier League to look forward to and I've just moved into a new house," said Rhodes. "Life at the moment is pretty good."

The Scotland question has followed Rhodes around for so long that it is understandable if the player would rather talk about other, happier things. Others, though, are likely to continue the debate on his behalf.

The nation's all-time Under-21 leading scorer, Rhodes - who was born in Oldham but threw his lot in with us under the schooling rule - has three goals in 13 appearances for the full team, a better record than it looks considering that only two of them have been starts. A victim of Gordon Strachan's preferred 4-2-3-1 shape, he hasn't featured since the 6-0 win against GIbraltar in Faro in March and his name hardly came up during this week's squad announcement.

A bit like his one-time Scotland Under-21 colleague Leigh Griffiths at Celtic, though, his claim could become irresistible if he begins banging the goals in for Middlesbrough in the Premier League. Particularly if he is the only Scottish striker in there. But after all those long years plugging away at Barnsley, Ipswich, Huddersfield, Blackburn and now Middlesbrough, Rhodes reckons reaching the top level of the English game is less a means to an end than an end in itself.

"The Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world," he said. "Even if I only get one or two minutes next season, I will be achieving a lifelong dream. "Playing Championship football or League One football is never anything to be sniffed at," he added. "Coming through the ranks at Barnsley or Ipswich, my aim was just to play in their first team.

"Did I ever think in my wildest dreams that I would be playing for a club in the Barclays Premier League? No I didn't. But I have worked hard to get myself in a position where I find myself in the Premier League so I guess my dreams have come true. It will be a fantastic year next year and something that for me personally will be completely different. Life in the Barclays Premier League is not normal life. I will just try to soak it all up."

Rhodes was only "six or seven" when the likes of Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli strutted their stuff in the shadow of the Transporter Bridge but 'Boro could be the most successful team in the North East next season and the manner of their promotion could hardly have been more dramatic. Rhodes was a second-half substitute as they got the nervy last-day draw they needed against season-long foes Brighton and Hove Albion. He soon found himself besieged by joyful fans at the Riverside Stadium at the final whistle.

"I don't know what the precise minute was when I came on," he said. "But I came on and then there were eight minutes of stoppage time. So a simple cameo turned into a 26-minute one! But you know what, I would rather have been in the thick of it, running about, than sat on the sidelines. The time didn't kick on very quickly, but somehow we managed to hear that final whistle."

The drama didn't start there, though. Justifying the £9m outlay for the last piece of the club's promotion jigsaw was one thing, but two of Rhodes's six goals in 13 league starts for his new club gained crucial last-minute points against MK Dons and Bolton Wanderers. Promotion allowed former clubs Huddersfield and Blackburn to receive generous additional slices of cash.

"Obviously I only joined halfway through," said Rhodes. "The type of player they were attracting at the time was significant so to join halfway through, and join such an illustrious dressing room, full of fantastic players and household names, was a bit daunting at first. But once I had a couple of weeks in the set-up and got settled and things, I realised they were fantastic men as well as fantastic footballers.

"A lot of people have said it must be a lot of pressure to come in for such a lot of money, but I never really saw it that way," he added. "I just felt it was a real honour to be part of a football club that had gone out of their way to sign me and head hunt me.

"Towards the end there there were a good few last minute goals, not just myself but Adam Forshaw and David Nugent scoring too," he added. "Maybe we were a little bit lucky at times but we would like to think it was more hard work than good fortune. These things happen in football, there have been teams throughout history like that. Hopefully it was no co-incidence."

Even more dramatic was the small 'blip' in team affairs in March when manager Aitor Karanka walked out on the eve of a match, apparently after a difference of opinion after certain senior players. That chairman Steve Gibson managed to put everything together again so effectively was an incredible footnote to the season.

"The manager obviously brought me here, and I owe him a great deal of gratitude," said Rhodes. "He has been fantastic for me ever since I walked through the door and I have learned a great deal under him.

"From the outside, things obviously must have seemed a little bit strange [in March]," he added. "What happened happened but it just shows you that us as a club and us as players were right behind him. We went on a run of six to seven wins in a row which was a great accolade for the players and the staff. Everyone was gearing towards the same thing, which was Middlesbrough football club and ultimately getting it into the Premier League."

While Rhodes is relieved to have avoided the additional trauma of the play-offs, one of his main mentors hasn't been so lucky. Lee Clark, with whom Rhodes had a transformational spell at Huddersfield, faces a relegation decider to save Kilmarnock's SPFL Premiership status and Rhodes feels he is the man to get the Rugby Park side out of this mess.

"Lee is a really good man manager and a very nice person," said Rhodes. "He always wants the best for the players and the club that he works for. I really can't speak highly enough of him - he brought me to Huddersfield and my time at Huddersfield has transformed my life, with the help of him and his coaching staff. He is a really top manager and I will be looking out for those results and hoping things pay off for him."

Whatever anyone else might say, things have definitely paid off for Rhodes. And the club who looked at his scoring record and backed him to attain their goals. Maybe in time he will also get the chance to help Scotland attain theirs.