After just one season at the St George Illawarra Dragons, Cameron McInnes has shown just how good he can be and the club was quick to recognise that, re-signing him until the end of the 2021 season on a new 3-year deal.
Already signed for the 2018 season, the former South Sydney Rabbitoh was one of the Dragons best this season, producing nifty plays in attack and defence throughout the season.
With the much-talked spine such a crucial point for teams, the club has now locked up the contracts of halves duo Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt as well as McInnes long-term.
A proven performer both on and off the field, the club believe that McInnes will only go from strength-to-strength over the next few seasons.
“Cameron had an outstanding season in 2017. A lot of people don’t see what he does away from the playing field,” Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward said.
“He’s one of our best trainers and a future leader of our club.
“2017 was his first full season in the top grade, playing 80 minutes every week too, and he’s acknowledged there are areas of his game that he wants to continue to improve.”
After a season that he knows was his best, McInnes admits that the decision was a no-brainer for him.
“I’ve only been here for 12 months but it’s been the best year of my footy life,” McInnes said.
“It was a no-brainer for me and I wanted to stay for as long as I could. It’s going to be good moving forward knowing that I have that stability.
“This is just the beginning. I really want to work harder towards bigger and better things. For us I think the top four is in reach for us so I just need to keep playing the best footy I can.”
The interview series is back again, as we had a chat with former Penrith Panthers, Parramatta Eels and London Broncos utility back, Tulsen Tollett. A wordsmith at heart, we asked Tollett about his rugby league career, moving over from England at a young age, his foray into rugby union and his now flourishing media career.
So sit back and absorb the answers:
1. You were born in Sussex before moving to Australia at an early age; what prompted you to pursue rugby league growing up and what are your first memories of the sport?
We emigrated to Australia in 1979 and originally moved to Villawood and stayed in what eventually became the infamous Immigration Detention Centre. It’s where my love of snooker actually comes from as there was a communal pool/snooker table that was available to practice on. We stayed there while my parents sorted out where we were going to settle and as they chased jobs first and foremost. It was just a case of sorting the rest of life to cut a long story short.
I’d never heard of Rugby League and wasn’t that aware of it in general. I remember when we moved to Emu Plains, us kids went to a babysitters one night in St Clair I think it was, and I saw the 1980 Grand Final between Canterbury and Eastern Suburbs as they were then; it was the one where Greg Brentnall kicked ahead and Steve Gearin caught it on the full and stretched out to score. There may have been other things I saw but as far as I remember, that match is my first insight into the sport.
I actually played football (soccer) in 1981 and 1982 for my local club as my dad grew up with the sport in England and that was natural for him and my mother to want me to play a less non-contact sport really. I remember my older brother was taking up Rugby League and my friends at school were predominantly playing the sport, so I begged my mother to let me and eventually she relented against her better judgement. To make matters worse, I was a year ahead in school and my friends were older and I played U11s first up but I wasn’t 10 until May that year in 1983!
2. Your first-grade debut came in 1992 against the Panthers; were you expecting the opportunity or was it a surprise?
It’s peculiar how it came about and no I wasn’t really expecting it although I fully appreciated it. I played reserve grade against Parramatta the week before and we won while the first-grade side who were reigning Premiers were beaten 20-0; I think it was at Parramatta Stadium. I don’t remember being told as such as we used to get together, all three grades on a Tuesday and the teams would be announced. I remember the rest of the week was a blur for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we played the Roosters and won all three grades against a club leading the Club Championship and coming first in the top grade if memory serves me correctly. I was on top of the world.
The second reason came following the match. I was hanging out having a beer with a few of the lads in the reserve grade team over the Leagues Club following our function which we always had after home matches for awards etc. One of the guys there was Ben Alexander, who I’d replaced that week. The usual banter was going backwards and forwards in a friendly way as there was no animosity from him or anyone else as we had a really good camaraderie at the Panthers.
They were heading off elsewhere, that was the last time I ever saw him alive. I could tell you now what he was wearing, it’s etched in my memory. He was killed in a car accident shortly after I saw him, with three other players in the vehicle sustaining injuries – Luke Goodwin, Glen Liddiard and Scott Murray. Not the way you want to remember your first-grade debut but it can’t be changed now.
3. After just 1 year in Penrith, you moved to cross-town rivals the Parramatta Eels and became a bit of a favourite; what was your time like at the Eels over your three seasons there?
I had a great time at the Eels. We started my first season there really well and then fell away a bit but it was a club that I really enjoyed with fanatical supporters who remain to this day and that first premiership since 1986 will come sooner rather than later. Brad Arthur is doing a fine job and deserves success for all the effort and change in attitude he’s brought about there.
I remember we played Brisbane in their first match at the QE2 Stadium in 1993 and we got a win up there which I think only we believed we could get. It was a surreal day, as we were walking in from the warm-up area one of the skydivers had gotten himself tangled up in a tree missing the stadium but thankfully he was alright. Then, Michael Buettner scored all 12 points against a team who were Premiers and would go on to win it again that year.
Playing with Brett Kenny who was my idol growing up was brilliant as it was his last season and in the following two years, we just seemed to lack consistency and a few players to drive us forward some more. We’d generally put in a good performance and follow it with something completely different.
4. A move to England then beckoned where you signed with the London Broncos; how did the English game differ from the Australian game?
My plan at first was to spend a year in England and then return to Australia. I’d signed with Super League in 1995 and I had a year left at Parramatta, but as they had aligned with the ARL, we came to an agreement and I moved on, unfortunately. My first year in London was an adventure, that’s the best way to describe it. It doesn’t snow that much in London so the first day I arrived it absolutely bucketed down, so much so that Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League game that evening had to be abandoned midway through it was so bad.
We had a great camaraderie in London and performed so well because we didn’t have the best team in the world talent wise but we had a willingness to do whatever it took for each other. That was because we got on so well as a group, and that was down mainly to Tony Currie who was the coach in those first three years of Super League for the London Broncos. He instilled a code of conduct that was strong and the players took responsibility for their actions, but also we knew how to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
The game itself in England I found to be a lot quicker than in Australia because referees wouldn’t allow players to lie in the tackle and it meant the play the ball area was a free for all at times. Markers were rarely straight or they’d shoot out way too early and the referee wouldn’t be quick to penalise. The defence wasn’t seen as a necessity for many because they’d rather score 40 and concede 30 but still win. I found it enjoyable, though and settled into the way of life in the capital thus choosing to stay.
5. In between seasons with the Broncos, you played rugby union for both Harlequins and London Welsh; was that just to keep fit or did rugby union intrigue you enough to give it a crack?
I wanted to give it a go as I played at school and never wanted to finish playing wishing I’d done it. We ground shared with Harlequins in 1997 at The Twickenham Stoop and it was a logical choice when they approached me. I was fortunate enough to play with former England captain Will Carling and World Cup-winning prop Jason Leonard along with Irish and Lions hooker Keith Wood, plus a host of others. It was a learning experience with a lot of things as the sport had only turned professional around two years before I joined them, but it was an experience I am always truly thankful for.
London Welsh came about in 1999 as it was Rugby Union World Cup year and I had spoken to Bath coach at the time, Andy Robinson, about spending two months with them to provide cover. They had won the Heineken Cup (European Cup) just the year before and I was tempted but I chose to play with London Welsh in the end when they found out I was available for a short stint. They were in the division below the Premiership but were a club with a clear progression plan with people and players I knew. Clive Griffiths who had represented Wales in both Rugby Union and Rugby League and would later be part of a Wales Grand Slam-winning coaching team was in charge, and I’d worked with him on the 1996 Great Britain Rugby League Tour.
They were based around the corner from where I lived at the time which also proved attractive, and it was one of the best times of my life. Plus, if it hadn’t have been for this move, I’d never have met my wife!
6. You were forced to retire from professional sport in 2001 due to a shoulder injury; did you feel like there was a chance you could come back from it or was retirement the sole, safe option?
I had my third shoulder reconstruction in 2001 and the second on the same shoulder in the space of a year, although the second time was more of a tendon issue. I had intended to see out my contract and play my final year which would’ve taken me to the end of 2002 and in my mind, I was ready to retire then. I’d been playing at first-team level since 1992 and I always wanted to play around 10 years. For some reason, I always thought there was more I wanted to do with my life despite the fact that I enjoyed doing what I was doing. It’s a lucky life being a professional sports person in any shape or form and people would always say you’re a long time retired.
I’d done some work for the BBC on radio while I was playing and a new digital channel was starting up at the time and they asked if I’d be interested in hosting some matches on it plus Sky Sports had the NRL which they offered me a regular slot on, so for me it was a case that if I didn’t take those opportunities, then they may well not be there in 12 months time.
At the back of my mind, I always had the doctors advice to listen to in that if I injured the same shoulder one more time, it could prove extremely problematic so common sense played a part in it as well.
7. You hold a Bachelor of Physical Education Teaching; tell us a bit about what prompted you to pursue that and where it led you to.
I decided to complete a Bachelor of Physical Education degree at the Australian College of Physical Education as teaching was something which interested me and sport was a natural progression in that area. It worked in well around training and playing and I quite enjoyed the course even if getting up early sore after a match during the season wasn’t necessarily my dream, it was certainly character building! I actually only taught for one year before I had the chance to move to England and that was at Jamison High School in South Penrith.
It was and still is a super school (I actually taught a bit of history as well which I’m a fan of) with some really good educators and a profession that is undervalued by many people in many countries, unfortunately. I do the odd bit of further education teaching when I have time these days if the schedule allows it. It’s another one of those journeys that helped mould me as a person I guess.
8. You currently work at the BBC World News as a presenter; tell us a bit about the role and what you do, and what it’s like to work for the BBC.
In 2010, my wife and I decided to spend some time back in Sydney. Our second child had been born in April and with the kids still well off starting school, we thought it was a move we should make to spend some time there and not wish in years to come that we had not done it. My wife is Irish so it wasn’t like we were going home as I hadn’t lived there since early 1996 so it was adventure time again. I worked for the ABC for both the 24-hour news TV Channel and also ABC NewsRadio with people like Debbie Spillane who I always saw on the TV when I was growing up and someone who led the way as a trailblazer for women in broadcasting.
In mid-2012, we moved back to Ireland and I generally spent a few days a week in the UK doing the sports presenting for BBC World News along with a few other outside bits I work on. Working on World News could involve stories on anything from Premier League football to cricket or the NBA so there’s a good mix of sports to work with which is what I enjoy. This year, I was out working on some 6 Nations Rugby Union along with things such as the Snooker World Championship on the final day completely dressed in black tie with other projects in the pipeline for next year.
It’s a hectic place to work as you could imagine but a lot of good operators are involved and as it’s the BBC and seen around the world as one of the bastions of broadcasting, it’s important to set and maintain high standards which we always try to adhere to.
In a huge boost for a side that has a very young core, the Newcastle Knights have signed experienced half Mitchell Pearce on a 4-year deal.
After the off-field saga and drama that saw Pearce disappointed in his former club the Sydney Roosters when they signed Cooper Cronk, Pearce now has his new club to worry about, a signing that will boost the Novocastrian side.
Still only 28, Pearce has played in 238 NRL games and 17 State of Origin matches and can guide the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Connor Watson.
“This is wonderful news for the Club and for all of our Members and supporters,” General Manager Football Darren Mooney said.
“Mitchell is committed to our Club’s rebuild and wants to be here for the long-term.
“He brings experience and leadership, and without doubt, he will complement our young squad.”
With the chance to lead from the front and guide the Knights forward, coach Nathan Brown knows just how much of an impact Pearce will have on the team both on and off the field.
“Mitch will play an important role in the development of our young halves and will also be influential in the overall growth of our side,” Brown said.
“Mitch has an exceptional kicking game and is a great competitor.
“He has some big game experience and I know he comes here wanting to be a leader.”
Pearce will begin pre-season training with the Knights on Monday and is excited to get stuck in at his new club.
“I see a group of guys working hard and on the way up and I want to be part of making this team strong again for the town,” Pearce said.
“I am passionate about helping and leading the young players at the Club.
“From the moment I spoke to Nathan (Brown) and Darren (Mooney) about where the Club is heading, I knew this is where I wanted to be.
“I can’t wait to get stuck in and start with the guys on Monday.”
Deja vu? Back to the future? You might have to believe it, as the Gold Coast Titans confirm the early release of Jarryd Hayne with a likely move back to where it all began at the Parramatta Eels but a mere formality.
With club and player mutually agreeing to a contractual release, Hayne says that the last 16 months have been a whirlwind but he has enjoyed his time on the Coast.
“The last 16 months have been testing and joyful all wrapped up into one,” said Hayne.
“I thank the Titans members, fans, Board, staff and players for what they have done for me and my family over that time, with special mention Rebecca Frizelle, Graham Annesley and Anthony Laffranchi.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time on the coast, I love the community and the laid-back lifestyle. I thank every person, fan and sponsor that I‘ve met during my time here and wish the Titans all the best in 2018.”
CEO Graham Annesley praised Hayne as the club’s biggest signing coup in their history and wished him all the best with his move.
“There is no doubt his signing was the biggest coup in the Titans short history, and although it hasn’t worked out as everyone had hoped, including Jarryd, the club has benefited in many ways from his presence,” said Annesley.
“We wish Jarryd nothing but the best for his future both on and off the field.”
The Eels have now confirmed the signing of Hayne which is for the 2018 season only.
Although he put some fans offside with some of his previous exploits, he hopes to come back and make amends but did thank the club’s fans for the support he received.
“As I said yesterday, my decision to return to Sydney wasn’t taken lightly so I am grateful that Brad and the Eels have offered me the opportunity to return to the Club,” Hayne said.
“Eels Members and fans have been behind me throughout my career and I want to use this second chance to repay that faith and support.”
“I look forward to returning to training in early January 2018 and am keen to work hard and play my part for the team in building on last year’s finals run.”
Hayne, the Eels best junior and player since the club’s heydays of the 1980’s, is a huge boost for the club and club CEO knows how important his signing will be to the club’s title ambitions.
“Jarryd started playing for our Club as a 15-year-old, so we are pleased that he now has the opportunity to return and be part of a strong squad and playing culture that Brad Arthur has developed over the past few seasons,” Gurr said.
“From speaking with Jarryd, he is keen to join his teammates in early January and is committed to working with Brad and our players to build on our excellent 2017 season.
Jarryd’s abilities will strengthen our 2018 player roster and we look forward to again seeing Jarryd in the Blue & Gold”.
Just a few short months ago, he joined the Gold Coast Titans with plenty of promise and experience, raring to go for a new season with a club that he had previously played for.
Fast forward to the present day and Brenton Lawrence has made a decision to retire from the game due to his body being unable to cope with the weekly demands and rigours of rugby league.
Lawrence played in 18 games to start his career with the Titans, debuting in Round 16 of the 2011 season.
He moved to the Manly Sea Eagles and played in 82 games for them, culminating in 104 first-grade games in total.
In the end, Lawrence just felt like it was the best decision to make for himself and for the team.
“It’s with mixed emotions I make this decision,” Lawrence said.
“I would love to feel like a 20-year-old and have many more seasons ahead, the reality is I’m not and I believe this is the best decision for the team, and for myself.”
Despite an earlier than expected retirement, Lawrence looks back on his rugby league career with pride.
“I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in rugby league,” continued the veteran forward.
“I have experienced some of the best years of my life both at the Gold Coast Titans and the Manly Sea Eagles.
“I’ve been so fortunate through rugby league to create incredible memories and friendships that I hold very dear and I would like to thank everyone who has ever supported my career. It is something I have never taken for granted.”
Although the club would have liked Lawrence to be on their roster for the next couple of seasons, they applaud the decision he has made for his own health and betterment.
“Of course we would have loved Brenton to play for the club but he has made a selfless decision and I commend him for that,” Titans coach Garth Brennan said.
“He knows his body better than anyone else so he has made a personal decision that will keep him in good health down the track.
“Brenton is a player who has made an impact in the short time he has been back, and I, as well as all of the playing group, wish him well for the future.”
Lawrence will not be lost to the game, however, or to the Titans, with CEO Graham Annesley looking at possible roles that the veteran can fill in and utilise his experience with.
“We are currently talking to Brenton about how we can keep him involved with the Titans,” Annesley said.
“He is a quality person with an enormous amount of experience who can be a real asset for the club in a variety of areas off the field.
“His honesty in putting the club ahead of his own personal interests is a mark of the man he is.”
Another day and another interview and this time, we had a chat with former North Queensland Cowboys and Parramatta Eels player, Shane Muspratt.
In our chat, he spoke about his rugby league career, his foray into coaching and his exciting work with Zambrero among other things.
So sit back and enjoy the read.
You grew up in Ayr, Queensland; what are your first memories of rugby league growing up in the area? Growing up in Ayr, my first memories of Rugby League were as a ball boy on the sidelines of some of the most fierce and competitive Foley shield games. Such a strong comp back in those days, to the point dad helped bring former Australian player Ray Brannigan to the Burdekin to play, which just goes to show the calibre of the comp back in those days.
2. Being as close to Townsville as you were, it made sense for your first-grade debut to come with the Cowboys; were you expecting it and what do you remember of your first game? Prior to the Super League saga, my focus was more in basketball but once I was invited into the system as a 17-year-old off the back of an open trial, you always aspire/dream to play at the highest level, particularly for your hometown/region.
My debut was made a little more special knowing dad’s business donated resources to help build the ground, so knowing all my family and friends could attend my first game in Townsville was pretty special.
3. In 2004, you moved to the Parramatta Eels for a season; what prompted that move? I got an opportunity and thought it would be good to experience something different. I had a similar offer to stay in NQ, but I thought I was probably getting a bit stale in my approach to training and they say a holiday is as good as a change so I went because I wanted to experience something different.
I didn’t have the best footballing year as I was injured for 60% of the year; firstly with a pretty serious neck injury obtained the last week before the season started and then halfway through the season when I managed to come back into first-grade and play a few games, I broke my hand.
Not a great year but I have always been a believer that things happen for a reason and the best thing I took away from this year was that I met some great people during my time in Sydney to the point where I still stay in contact today and when you run into those that you don’t, it’s still good to laugh and catch up.
4. You then returned to the Cowboys in 2005; was it always your aim to finish your career where you started it? I didn’t expect to be back that quick but with the year of injuries, it was the easiest and most cost-effective thing to do at the time, going home. When I returned home, I worked part-time and played semi-professional with the Cowboys young guns Q Cup reserve grade, which although not playing first grade in that year, I feel this was my best season and most consistent year of football.
I didn’t play a lot of first-grade this time either, only a few more games when injuries occurred.
5. Your utility value was appreciated during your career; what was your favourite position to play? I liked playing 6. I think my basketball days as a point guard had always seen me play as an organising type runner.
6. Post-footy, how are you keeping yourself busy and do you still have an active interest in the sport? Staying busy through business and family. I own and operate the QLD development region for the Mexican Food franchise – Zambrero. Between work and family life, spare time is limited particularly having 2 boys – Ethan 5 and Carter 7. I got back into coaching this year, coaching the Wests Panthers (Brisbane) Under 6’s. Had a ball with the kids, not too dissimilar to coaching Q Cup.
HAHA. Jokes aside, coaching for me starting with the Mackay Cutters (feeder team for the Cowboys) was the best 2 years of life lessons I think I learnt in my whole career and something I have really tried to take into business. Although having no regrets about the goods times I had while playing, you appreciate the discipline and management required to be a first-grade coach.
Personally, I think becoming a parent has also had a lot to do with the stability of where my business and family life has ended up and throw in there the lessons I think team sport provides us with at a very young age, I am very appreciative of my time in the NRL albeit only 64 games.
7. If you could give advice to any budding rugby league player, what would it be? The game is so different nowadays with its media coverage, in particular, social media. Jokingly, I would say do as I say not as I did but the biggest thing I have always said; the players of today need to be more accessible and approachable to fans and sponsors, because it’s this network of people you engage with who will probably be the first call you make when you’re looking for work post your football career, however long that is (speaking from experience).
I was fortunate to have some great mentors post-football who I worked with after finishing coaching with the Cutters (sponsors of the Cowboys). I worked with this family for 4 and half years prior to venturing into Zambrero. I never pretended to be overly academic but I learnt very early from my dad and then further enhanced from my mentors/employers, the importance of building strong relationships is second to known and throw in a bit/a lot of hard work and who knows where life can take you post footy.
In a boost for the Cronulla Sharks, the club has announced the re-signing of talented hooker Jayden Brailey on a 2-year deal.
Brailey, already signed on for 2018, has been a promising player for the Sharks since starting the year at hooker.
The Aquinas Colts junior will now remain at the Sharks until the end of 2020 and after a stellar 2017 season, the club are pleased to retain him and watch him develop even further as a player and a person.
“Jayden is only young and he had a tough first year. He needed to play big minutes, then he had the broken jaw but he is tough and resilient,” said Sharks coach Shane Flanagan.
“He came back from the injury and had an excellent season.
“He has the respect of his senior teammates, from players like Gallen and Lewis, which is important, and if Jayden keeps going and keeps doing what he’s doing, he will have a long and successful career at the Sharks and in the NRL.”
In the end, Brailey could not see himself at any other club and so staying at the Sharks was an easy decision.
“I’ve been at the Sharks since I was about 13 and they’ve taught me so much,” said Brailey.
“They’ve been a big part of where I am today and hopefully it’s the start of being at this club for a long time.