I was 26 years old trying to crack one of the toughest football competitions in Australia; the National Rugby League (NRL). As I was getting older, I knew that the decision to keep following my dream was getting tougher. Decisions like this not only effect yourself, but also your family. I’d just had my first child at the time and I had to decide whether to quit a good job up in Newcastle working in the mines or take up a part-time contract with the Newcastle Knights chasing my dream. I chose to follow my dream and I’m so glad I did.
At the time, I was playing A-grade for George Ndaira’s Kurri Kurri side while under the watchful eye of then NSW Cup Newcastle Knights coach, Rick Stone. I always felt that I had Rick’s backing so it was great to get the call up to play for him. It was however a shame that he wasn’t the coach when I got the call up to play my first NRL game for the Knights. But I knew coach Danny Buderus had always been great with me and it hasn’t changed since.
I had dreamed for years about scoring a try on my debut in the NRL. When it happened it felt like I had an out of body experience. My entire rugby league career flashed right before me. In that very moment I felt as though all the hard work, dedication and sacrifice had paid off. However, scoring a try in your debut doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a spot in the next match. I remember Akuila Uate was coming back from injury the next week and I lay awake that night thinking over everything that happened throughout the game and wondering whether I’d done enough to keep my spot. I was pretty relieved when I got the call the next day from my coach pumping up my tyres and giving me the nod for the next week.
The final five games of the 2015 season certainly gave me some ammunition to rip in to the pre-season. I was fighting for my spot with young gun Chanel Mata’utia. Pre-season is relentless. If you aren’t ready to put your body on the line and make sacrifices you will be left behind... and I was just that. Chanel trained at a high level all summer and got the nod ahead of me for Round 1. I was back to the drawing board and re-evaluating my goals for the 2016 season. I didn’t think I was going to see much playing time.
People always say it’s all about opportunity. I was lucky enough to get another opportunity when Chanel injured himself in Round 1 of the 2016 season. Bedsy called me up the next week and I made a note to myself that I wasn’t letting this position slide. Even though I knew he’d be missing a long period there were other guys pushing for my spot.
I learnt quite quickly the NRL is a tough slog. To win games in this competition you must stay focused and composed for the full 80 minutes. In the blink of an eye teams like the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys will put a couple of tries on you and then the game is over. Unfortunately, we didn’t play good footy for a full 80 minutes enough last year and we would’ve lost 8-9 games by four or less points, which was very disappointing for me and the boys.
I have to admit that a couple of times I found myself a little star struck. I remember heading to the try line against the Rabbitohs and Greg Inglis coat hangered me, but the hard work I’d done in the gym mean't I was able to cop the hit and carry the ball across the line and put the ball down. He came back over to see if I was alright and I just wanted to kind of say g’day to the bloke!
I also learned that you never get a night off with an easy opponent in the NRL. There are elite guys coming for you at all times. You’ve got Dally M winners like Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk picking you apart for 80 minutes and they will rip you up if you’re not on your 'A game'.
During last season I was actually close to signing with an English team at one point but the contract negotiations fell through. I just kept working hard throughout though and my passion, dedication and all the sacrifices were rewarded by being offered a two-year deal with the Knights. It’s given my family security for the next two years and I’m so grateful for the opportunity the club has given me so far. Now I’m really looking forward to a big 2017 so I can repay the faith they’ve shown in me.
I’ve never played in the opening round of an NRL season and so that is my first goal this year. I’ve got posters around the house constantly reminding me. I am treating every training session like it’s my last, like it’s the first game of the year. I’m giving it everything. This year I want that taste of representative football. I want to play City v Country. I’ve played against some of the best Wingers in the country in the likes of Valentine Holmes and Suliasi Vunivalu. I believe I’m ready to take the next step. I do understand it’s going to take sacrifice, determination and belief. I’m ready.
Aerial acrobatic specialist #262 my number and place in history.
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