We are back yet again with another interview with a former player; this time Grant Rovelli, a former New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys halfback. We asked him about his career, his international rugby league adventures and his coaching in Mackay.
So sit back, have a read and enjoy the interview (and thanks again to Grant for answering our questions):
1. What is your earliest memory of rugby league growing up in Mackay?
I spent a lot of time with my Dad and younger brother at our local league team Wests Tigers; my dad was always heavily involved with the club particularly coaching and playing. We started off as ball boys and picked up a few tricks of the trade along the way. I would pass the ball to the home team and leave the ball on the ground for the opposition and we also used dry sand for the opposition and put water in the sand for the home kickers. We would then go onto the field at halftime and play against all the other kids that came along to the game. They were great times.
2. You made the shift to New Zealand in 2006 to play first-grade; tell us about the experience of getting the call-up to make your debut under then coach Ivan Cleary?
I was coached by Ivan for 2 seasons at the Roosters and we had formed a strong player-coach relationship so when he approached me to go over there, I jumped at the chance. I was actually really surprised to be picked for the first game of that year as I had played all the games from the bench in the trials and there were also some great players competing for positions.
I can’t remember exactly how the call up happened but I was absolutely stoked that I was making my debut in the NRL. In the second last training run before the game, I did rib cartilage because Ruben Wiki belted me in a defensive drill. As a result, I played the first 15 games of that year with injections to 3 ribs. My debut was a special moment for me as it was a culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get to that point. We didn’t win but I remember just having a ball.
3. You played your junior footy for the Cowboys before moving away to NSW and then NZ. You then returned to North Queensland to play for the Cowboys; what prompted that decision and did you ever think you would play first-grade for Cowboys in your career?
Being from Mackay, I came through the Cowboys Juniors system and at that time, my Dad and David Roberts used to drive a minibus full of Mackay boys up to Townsville for the junior cowboy’s camps which were a lot of fun. That was the start of friendships I still have today; Aaron Payne, Jaiman Lowe, Michael Luck, Matty & Brenton Bowen and Justin Mackay.
The opportunity arose after a frank discussion with Ivan at the end of 2008. He thought it would be in my best interests to find another club and move on. I was still contracted to the Warriors for another year with an option for another and I really enjoyed it at the club so I wasn’t that keen to move on but once it was out there, a few options arose and the Cowboys I thought was the best fit. I always wanted to play first grade for the Cowboys as it was a secret goal of mine.
When I was 15, I drew a Cowboys jersey with the number 7 on the back of my school hat as a symbol of that goal. It’s funny to think but I always remember that as something that stands out in my mind when I really actually decided that is what I wanted. At the time, I had only made regional rep teams and I wasn’t the best player in town but I had a vision and from that point on, I worked hard and made sacrifices so I could achieve that. While I didn’t play a lot of games for the Cowboys, every game was special because I felt I was representing our region every time I put the jersey on.
4. You made a couple of appearances for the Italian side in your career; tell us a bit about your Italian heritage and what playing for the Italians meant to you.
My grandfather moved over to Mackay from Italy when he was 8 years old to be with his family who were already living in Mackay trying to establish a cane farm. We grew up living on the family farm where my great-grandparents who were from Italy also lived. I remember going to their house and getting chocolate but they didn’t speak English.
My great Uncle Charlie spent a lot of time on the farm from my early memories. When I had the chance to play for Italy, it was a great thrill for me and my family; I know my Grandfather was proud. We framed one of my jerseys and it was the pride of place at his house for a long time.
My first game, Greg Florimo came off the bench and we played in the halves together that was unreal, playing against Greece in Sydney. We scored on the bell and kicked the goal to win after the siren and some fans let flares off after the game which was pretty wild.
5. Since your playing days, you’ve made a move into the coaching arena with the Mackay Cutters; how has that experience been and was coaching always on the agenda?
My first official coaching gig was with the Mackay Cutters U20s this year which was a rewarding experience for all involved. We had a successful season making the Grand Final against Redcliffe. Coaching is something I was always interested in. When I played, I was a student of the game and took an active role in mentoring young players so it felt natural going into the role this year.
The biggest thrill for me was being able to pass on my experience to the local kids from Mackay. Our team was mostly made up of local kids who grew up in the area so for them to have the success we did, was huge for their confidence and the area. The improvement in them in such a short space of time was incredible and all round it was a great time.
6. Looking back on your career as a whole, what moment sticks out to you as one of the greatest?
That’s such a hard question to answer because there isn’t one that stands out because there were so many great times and moments; even just being a fulltime professional on its own is a great thing.
I’m just extremely grateful for all the experiences I have had and the life skills I have learnt as a result of being in that environment which has given me the tools to succeed in life. I think if I had to pinpoint one it would be my debut and my first Cowboys game as both those moments were dreams of mine or goals that I had from a young age.
7. If you could give advice to any young, budding player, what would it be?
Set small goals that will help you achieve your dream and make sure you have fun doing it.