Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

The rise of the Pacific nations and how to capitalise on their RLWC success

International rugby league is currently a hot topic in rugby league circles, particularly on the back of the success of the Pacific nations at the 2018 Rugby League World Cup. As you delve deeper, however, just how much recognition are they set to receive moving forward and how often can we expect them to play? 

Brad Boucher has put forth his view on the rise of the Pacific nations and stresses that they cannot be cast asunder anymore. Instead, it is their turn to shine and the international rugby league powers that be must act and give those teams and their fans what they want; more regular international fixtures. Here is Brad’s view:

In the 1995 Rugby League World Cup, Kiwi Mathew Ridge kicked a field goal to defeat a heroic Tongan side by one point.

A nation outside those readily associated with the sport during the previous century really stood up to one of Rugby League’s big three and gave our game an opportunity to push our international boundaries, and create a much-needed new national team which could compete with our first tier nations.

Did the rugby league administrators see and grasp this opportunity by adding Tonga and other Pacific nations to regular international competitions or Test series against top tier nations? No. Tonga did not play another game against a member of the big three until a warm-up to the 2000 world cup five years later when the momentum was long gone.

If Rugby League was a surfer, he would be known as the guy who constantly misses the big perfect wave to ride and show his skills at their peak.

We have just had an amazing RLWC with each Pacific nation competing reaching the quarterfinals. Two of those sides – Fiji and Tonga – went onto the semi-finals. Both beat New Zealand to do so and Tonga – depending on your point of view – could have easily been playing in the final against Australia instead of England had a certain “no try” ruling gone to the video referee.

We have had kings show up to the games and American rock stars fly back on their own money to sing the anthem. We have had crowds in their thousands show up to airports to greet the players or line the streets in protest and support for their national team. Attendance records have been broken at sporting stadiums, crowd support for international teams has never been more passionate and media hype has never been more positive. Our game was rewarded with some of the greatest sporting drama anyone can remember and games of the highest possible standard.

And yet here we are the start of 2018 and only the one game for the Pacific nations has been set in concrete – a mid-season Test with a possible extra game for Tonga in Hawaii at the end of the year. Those games that are planned; are they being played in New Zealand to take advantage of the supporters there vying for more? No. They are a triple-header in a Sydney suburb shared amongst fans obsessed more with State of Origin and their NRL clubs than underdog Pacific teams.

How is this a reward for those Pacific Nations that brought so much to our World Cup? How is this an incentive to the players who knocked back huge match payments from Australia and New Zealand to honour their heritage and play so passionately for the Pacific Nations underdogs? How is this good for our international game?

The answer as to how to ride the RLWC momentum is quite obvious. These nations need a regular competition. A trophy they can hold up if victorious, a set of games that can reward the players each year as a decent respectable representative career and a tournament that can bring back the fans and give them something to look forward to. Reward them for their passionate support. They need an annual Pacific Cup to ride the World Cup momentum.

Played in New Zealand against New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji,  a Pacific Cup could easily become New Zealand’s – and the Pacific’s own – State of Origin.

NRL players eligible for each team of the standard of Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Michael Jennings, Jarryd Hayne, Suliasi Vunivalu, Akuila Uate, Josh Papalii, Anthony Milford, Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – not to mention guys who missed the trend who might be tempted to make the switch, such as Reagan Cambell-Gillard, Felise Kaufusi and Josh McGuire. They could add the superstar factor that builds great competitions for future generations.

Already some of the New Zealand All Blacks have asked and been denied a switch to the Pacific nations for rugby union’s international game. Think what a consistent tournament of this standard might do for young players in New Zealand wondering which rugby path to choose for their adult careers. A Pacific Cup could help rugby league challenge union, not only in the Pacific but in New Zealand as well.

The Kiwis might take a small step backwards when some of their players make themselves available for Tonga or Samoa at the start but they will take two steps forward when the game revenue starts flowing into their bank accounts and young players in Australia and New Zealand playing both rugby league and union starts deciding they want to be apart of the atmosphere and passion this tournament is sure to create.

But New Zealand are already committed to touring England in 2018 and can’t possibly take part in a Pacific Cup this year I hear you say? Well, it just so happens rugby league has another tool in its shed that can help kick-start this tournament until 2019 when the Kiwis are available and it’s not just any tool, it’s a bloody big sledgehammer.

I’m not talking about Australia, though they would be a great option. The other team I’m talking about for 2018, I’d bet would draw massive crowds and TV ratings because those games would be the last games played by one of the games most popular and best players of all time. Because who wouldn’t want to watch a Johnathan Thurston lead a full-strength Indigenous Dream Team around the field for the last time in his testimonial year? The script has written itself.

So come on rugby league administrators. These gifts to our game are right in front of us to hand out. Reward the players and fans of the Pacific Nations for their work in the RLWC and reward one of our games greatest players with a send-off he truly deserves. Don’t be the surfer who misses the perfect wave for our game to ride to success.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 9: Tulsen Tollett

Tulsen Tollett

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.

 

 

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 8: Shane Muspratt

Shane Muspratt

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.

  1. 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.

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 7: Dean Collis

Dean Collis

Back by popular demand, our interview series is back! This time, we spoke with Dean Collis, a former Cronulla Sharks, Wests Tigers and Wakefield utility back. 

He opened up about his debut, his appearance for City Origin, his time in England and his post-NRL/SL career.

1. 2003 was a big year for you at the start of your career as you represented the Australian Schoolboys and made your Wests Tigers debut; what are your memories of both those occasions?

A: 2003 was a big year. The Australian Schoolboys was a great experience and a great privilege to be part of. It is a huge honour to represent your country at any level and it is still one of my most treasured jerseys.

My debut for Wests Tigers was a dream come true and I couldn’t believe it came so early. I just remember getting the call on a Monday to say I was playing and I was over the moon. I tore my quad in the warm up and I got through 60 minutes before coming off.

2. In 2006, you became a regular in the centres for the Tigers; what changed in you as a player to make that spot your own?

A: I played a few games in 2005 and started to feel more comfortable around the playing group. I had been in the squad for a few years and I knew that I had to start to push my way into the team. Shane Elford was injured to start the year which opened the door for me to get a start which gave me a chance to cement my spot.

3.  In 2007, you made an appearance for the City Origin side; what was that experience like?

A: To get the chance to play for City when it was still seen as a bit of Origin trial was a great experience. I had the chance to play alongside some great players which I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to do.

4. What prompted your move to the Cronulla Sharks ahead of the 2010 season?

A: 2009 at the Tigers was a poor year for me. My form was poor to start the year and then I broke my arm during the year at training. I was a bit down in the dumps and I just felt like I needed a change.

5.  Following two years at the Sharks, you moved to Wakefield to play there; what did you find was the main difference between the NRL and the Super League at that time and did you have to adjust at all?

A: There was a big difference between NRL and Super League on and off the field. It was a lot more attack-oriented as opposed to the NRL which had a lot more focus on defence. Although it was a huge change, I didn’t feel like I had to adjust much. I felt like the game over there suited me more.

6. You made the decision to return to Australia for family reasons at the end of the 2015 season and are now playing for the Camden Rams in Group 6; was that a decision you felt comfortable with, knowing that you may have had more juice left in the tank at the SL or NRL level?

A: It was a really hard decision to make and I thought about it long and hard. My wife and I had a baby boy the year before and I probably more so than her was struggling not having any family around for a bit of help and assistance.

I have a few regrets that I came home when I did as I still believe I had a bit to offer. I played with Camden Rams when I came back and finished up at the end of 2016.

7. If you could give any advice to budding rugby league players; what would it be?

A: Enjoy it while you can and try and make every opportunity count because you never know when the next one might come along.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 6: Brenton Bowen

Our interview series with former players continues with pt 6; with former North Queensland Cowboys and Gold Coast Titans utility back, Brenton Bowen.

With a synonymous surname in rugby league, a love of the game and the skill to boot, Bowen opened up on life prior to first-grade, his career and what the game means to him.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy his open, honest answers.

Q1: Your surname is synonymous in rugby league; what drew you into rugby league?

A: My earliest memory of Rugby League is when I was a kid; I remember my dad and uncles playing for the Mossman Sharks in the Cairns Local Rugby League Competition. I’d sometimes hop on the footy bus with my dad and follow him down to Cairns from Hope Vale to watch him play. When I got a bit older, I loved watching Allan Langer play for the Broncos. I was a big Broncos fan growing up because they had a lot of QLD Origin players.

Q2: With Matthew Bowen being your cousin, what were your rugby league memories growing up with him?

A: We were both very competitive. There was always a competitive rivalry between us from our time growing up at Hope Vale. Every time we played backyard footy or a game of touch footy, we would always be on opposing teams. We always wanted to outdo each other but at the same time had so much respect for each other.

Q3: Born in Cairns, you went on to play for Cairns Brothers at the junior level and then the North Queensland Cowboys; what were those experiences like and what did it mean to you to play first-grade?

A: Although I was born in Cairns, I grew up in Hope Vale near Cooktown. I did my High Schooling years at St. Teresa’s College Abergowrie (near Ingham). It wasn’t until I was 16 that I played for Cairns Brothers and we went on the win the Grand Final that year. I’d make the 3-hour trip north to play footy on the weekends.

I have some of my fondest memories playing footy alongside my school mates. None more special than winning the Confraternity Carnival in 1999 with my St. Teresa’s College schoolmates. Matty Bowen and Palmer Wapau were on the same side also. Palmer went on to play for the Brisbane Broncos.

When the Cowboys entered the NRL competition in 1995, I instantly changed teams from the Broncos to the Cowboys, haha! We had an NRL team to support in our very own backyard. To actually have the opportunity to not only play for them but to actually debut with them was a dream come true. One goal of mine was definitely ticked off.

Q4: After some success at the Cowboys, you moved to the Titans for a sole season in 2008; what prompted that move?

A: At the time, the Titans were offering me a 2-year contract whereas the Cowboys were only offering me a 12-month contract. So I thought I needed something with more stability and decided to sign with the Titans. It was a very tough decision to make to move to the Gold Coast as 2007 was a very good year for me at the Cowboys as I was playing regular first grade. I enjoyed my time at the Titans over the two years that I was there. Although I didn’t play many games down there I got to play/train along side the likes of Scotty Prince, Preston Campbell, Matt Rogers, Chris Walker, Brad Meyers, Luke Bailey etc. I only played a hand full of games in 2008 and spend the 2009 season with The Tweed Seagulls.

It was a very tough decision to make to move to the Gold Coast as 2007 was a very good year for me at the Cowboys as I was playing regular first grade. I enjoyed my time at the Titans over the two years that I was there. Although I didn’t play many games down there I got to play/train along side the likes of Scotty Prince, Preston Campbell, Matt Rogers, Chris Walker, Brad Meyers, Luke Bailey etc. I only played a hand full of games in 2008 and spend the 2009 season with The Tweed Seagulls.

Although I didn’t play many games down there, I got to play/train alongside the likes of Scotty Prince, Preston Campbell, Matt Rogers, Chris Walker, Brad Meyers, Luke Bailey etc. I only played a handful of games in 2008 and spend the 2009 season with The Tweed Seagulls.

Q5: You stayed in rugby league after that and played several seasons with the Northern Pride; did you feel as if that was a demotion or was it refreshing to continue playing at the grassroots level?

A: Yes, once my time with the Titans came to an end at the end of 2009, I made my way back to Far North Queensland to play for the Northern Pride. I felt that it was refreshing to be able to go back to grassroots level. Although, my 2-3 years there was marred by injury and later on doctors found a benign tumour on my Pituitary gland (just under the Brain).

Q6: Post-footy, do you still have an involvement within the game whether it be in a professional capacity or as a fan?

A: These days, I’m just a passionate fan of the game. I’d love to get back involved in the game as I love it and love what it gave me but my work commitments and family commitments take priority in my life now.

Q7: What is your greatest memory from your rugby league career?

A: My greatest memory from my Rugby League career would have to be my debut game; Round 3 2003 vs Manly. I came off the bench that day – Ty Williams got injured – and coach Graham Murray gave me the nod to take the field in place of Ty.

I was up against John Hopoate. After the game, he shook my hand and wished me all the best in my NRL career I thought that was pretty special. Other memories and highlights were obviously getting to play First Grade alongside my cousin Matty Bowen.

Q8: As a successful player, if you could give one piece of advice to any budding player that wants to play rugby league, what would it be?

A: The advice I would to anyone who wants to play at that level is to never give up on your dream. Billy Slater is a perfect example. I am the same age as Billy, he didn’t make many if not any of rep teams through the junior grades he’d always miss out but to his credit, he didn’t give up. Now he’s one of the best players in the world.

One that I use for budding rugby league players from the bush/communities that get homesick is that “home isn’t going anywhere,” it’s always going to be there. There are a lot of talented footy players from the bush/communities that would make it in the NRL but are afraid to move away from home. 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 5: Matt ‘Sheep’ Fuller

Matt Fuller

Our next part of the interview series is here and we spoke to Matt ‘Sheep’ Fuller who played for the Canterbury Bulldogs, the St George Dragons, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Western Reds, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and the Western Suburbs Magpies. He spoke to us about his career, a surprise misconception during his Western Reds days and his successful fitness business among other things.

  1. You made your debut at the Canterbury Bulldogs at 18 in 1989; what were your nerves like heading into the contest and were you expecting to get the call-up?

All I ever wanted to do as a kid was to play first-grade rugby league. Making my first-grade debut was a proud moment for myself and my family. I played all three grades on the one day against the Roosters that afternoon. I made my first-grade debut in the centres, which was like a foreign language to me having played all my schoolboy rugby league at 6, 7 and 9. I remember only too well walking out of Belmore Sports Ground pretty tired and exhausted only to find a parking ticket on my car!

2. In 1995 you joined the Western Reds and later became captain; what did honour mean to you?

I loved playing at the Western Reds, it really felt like being at home with a great bunch of blokes. Peter Mulholland was my St Gregory’s College Campbelltown coach and the first-grade coach at the Western Reds. He had and continues to have a massive influence on my life as a mentor.

To this day, I don’t know how it was ever picked up that I became captain of the Western Reds as I was not. I felt like a leader on the field but never had the C against my name, but the story keeps evolving. I was very talkative on the field and was known for my sledging of which I enjoyed getting inside the opponents heads.

3. You moved to Wakefield for the second time in 1997 and won the First Division Final in 1998; what memories do you have of that success and of your time in Wakefield/England?

Wakefield Trinity in the north of England was a very special and rewarding time for me, having left Souths at the end of 1993 to play with “Wakey” in 1993/94 before joining the Reds in 1995. I was part of a team that beat Wigan at their home ground for the first time in 17 years and that year we fought off relegation (94). This was massive for the club. My second stint was after the Western Reds had folded was in 1997/98. At first, I was angry that the Western Reds had folded after having 3 great seasons, but returning to the UK and finding Wakefield Trinity in the first division with a mountain to climb to get back into the super league was a massive challenge.

Overall, I wouldn’t say we had a skilful team but we had a close group of lads and a great coach who worked very hard for each other. This time I held the C against my name and led the team to a grand final victory against Featherstone Rovers. Walking up the stairs to lift the premiership trophy felt very surreal. It meant a lot to the club and to myself that they got promoted back into the super league and remain there to this day. It was a very proud moment, hence, the naming of our second child, a baby girl, Trinity.

4. 1999 was your last year as a rugby league player with Western Suburbs; looking back on your career, did you imagine that you would have such a successful career when you made your debut 10 years prior?

Looking back on my career, I remember the great Terry Lamb once saying to me, “you cannot call yourself a first-grade footballer until you have played 100 first grade games of rugby league.” That desire and motivation never left me. From 1989 – 1992, I was in and out of first grade, mostly playing reserve grade. But from 1993 – 1999, I only played about 4 reserve grade games; the rest I played in first grade. Having played two full seasons in the UK, at one stage I thought the 100 club was going to be a tricky assignment.

Knocking back a great offer from Wakefield Trinity to lead the side into super league promotion in 1999 was a very difficult decision for me to make. But getting a call from the Magpies to play in the 1999 NRL season gave me an opportunity to reach my goal of 100 first grade games of which I did, under the great Tommy Raudonikis.

I feel blessed to have played the great game of rugby league. I owe the game everything. After rugby league I have put the lessons I learnt into my life and have been able to mentally adjust to a normal life, as nothing comes close to being a professional sportsman.

5. You manage the Fuller Fitness Training Centre, a successful and reputable training facility; what prompted your move into the fitness industry once you had finished your rugby league career?

I’ve been in the fitness industry for the past 17 years having set up a business from scratch, Fuller Fitness Subiaco. I’ve always loved the fitness side of the game of rugby league and stuck to what I knew. The business side, well that was a different ball game altogether at first, but after so long, I now have a pretty good handle on the running of the business and what it takes to be successful.

6. Telethon is obviously an organisation close to your heart; what prompted you to get involved with them and what did it mean to you to play such an active role?

Telethon is WA’s premier fundraising event for the community, held in October each year. All media outlets put down their bias and come together to help Channel 7 in one common goal; raising much-needed funds for distribution to different beneficiaries throughout the community to help the sick kids of WA. Telethon has given me a great focus and purpose and since retiring from rugby league this year will be my 8th, 24-hour non-stop physical challenge.

My team and I will be attempting a 24 hour non-stop spin class in Telethon’s 50 year anniversary. Over the years, my team and I have raised over $500,000 for the kids of WA. These physical challenges are my way of giving back to the community. My wife and I are truly lucky to have healthy children and over the Telethon weekend, we are reminded of this each year.

7. If you could give any advice to young, budding rugby league players and people in general, what would it be?

My advice to young rugby league players would be to look after their bodies and finances to the best of their ability, even if it means getting professional help. Learn from the lessons that you gain from playing rugby league; discipline, respect, physical and mental toughness and punctuality; and apply these to your life and you will remain mentally and physically strong through your transition to normality.

Give back as much as you can to the fans and kids of rugby league because after the pats on the back have stopped, you will need a new focus. Love your family, without them by your side retirement will be a lot harder.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 4: Grant Rovelli

Grant Rovelli

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.  

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 3: Sione Faumuina

Sione Faumuina

Back again with another interview, this time with Sione Faumuina, a former Canberra Raider, New Zealand Warrior, Hull FC player, North Queensland Cowboy and Castleford Tiger. 

He spoke to us about his career, his autobiography, how he wants to change the lives of young people and other areas.

Sione Faumuina

1. Your rise from the junior system in Auckland into the NRL world was quite rapid; was it something you were expecting or was it a shock for you to play so early?
It was definitely a shock and happened very quickly. I went from playing in our local under 19 side then moving up to our reserves then senior side, making the Auckland rep team and NZ under 18 side. Before I knew it, I was turning up for pre-season training at the Raiders. All this happened within 8 months.

2. Your first-grade debut came with the Canberra Raiders; why Canberra and what was it like playing first-grade for the first time?
It was between the Roosters and Raiders and I chose the Raiders – sorry, my Mother chose the Raiders because they had a hostel which was run by a Samoan couple. The Roosters were going to put me in a house with other players and no adult supervision. My debut was made more memorable because it was against the Warriors in Auckland. My whole family and extended family showed for my debut and I’ll never forget that.

3. d had your most successful period as a player; what did it mean to you to return home and play for your hometown team?
Returning home was a blessing and a curse. My first year at the Warriors, I was in and out of first grade. I was more concerned with going out and having a good time with my mates then footy. My second year was a lot better as I knuckled down and really got stuck into training. Having my family around was a huge blessing but looking back, I was very selfish with some of the decisions I made.

4. By your own admission, you were not the player or the leader you wanted to be because of off-field indiscretions. Looking back, what would you have done differently and what would you tell your former young self?
Playing in the NRL is no easy feat and the profile that comes with it can be used to do great things. If I had my time again, I would have done a lot more community work. I would use my profile to add value to people and organisations. Being a positive role model is easy when you have core values and beliefs which I know I did, unfortunately when I consumed alcohol, that all went out the window. I would also start to create a life after football and also mentor young players that were coming through. “As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way”. I was given a great opportunity and I didn’t value it.

5. At what precise moment did you realise that you had to change your ways and become a better person and role model?
When I had my first child, suddenly it wasn’t about me anymore. I finally had a reason to change and the thought of my children reading about Dad and all the trouble he was in was scary. It’s been 7 years since I played and I’m using whatever profile I have left to be a role model now. Basically making up for what I should’ve done during my career.

6. You released your autobiography ‘The Second Phase’; what prompted you to release the book and what do you hope its release achieves?
The purpose was to get my message out and basically say, “hey, I really stuffed up but I’ve turned my life around. Here’s how I did it”. I wanted fans to see the other side of professional sport. Tell my side of the story and also share how I overcame my alcohol addiction. My mentor put it best when he said: “if we can’t help each other, what’s the point in gathering experiences”. Basically, I’m sharing my mistakes and the main message is that you don’t let your past dictate your future.

7. If you could give any budding rugby league player some advice, what would it be?
“No guarantees in professional sport” is what another mentor of mine would always say. Playing in the NRL is an opportunity, value it. The traits that rugby league teaches you can be applied to every aspect of your life. Stay grounded and work hard on and off the field and always remember that you are a reflection of your club, family but more importantly yourself. Be a pillar in your community and know that young people are looking up to you. Don’t look at being a role model as added pressure, look at it as an honour.

Facebook: @sionefaumuinaoffical.

Instagram:sione.faumuina.

Twitter: @sione_faumuina.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 2: Aaron Gorrell

Back again with part 2 of our NRL interview series and we had a chat with former St George Illawarra Dragons, Brisbane Broncos and Catalan Dragons hooker, Aaron Gorrell.

He spoke to us about his career, his post-playing days and why he went into coaching, so sit back, read and enjoy the ride!

Aaron Gorrell interview:

1. As a Wollongong local, did you always harbour an ambition to play for the St George Illawarra Dragons?
Growing up in Wollongong, I would go and sit on the hill and watch the Steelers. I was lucky enough to then play Harold Matthews, SG Ball and Flegg for them so, at that stage, that was what I always wanted to do. I always had a soft spot for the Dragons so it was easy once they merged!

2. Tell us about the match-winning conversion in round 15, 2006 against the Broncos. What was running through your head at the time with the game on the line?
As a goal kicker, it’s the moment you’ve always dreamt of especially at a ground like Suncorp with a big crowd against a team like the Broncos. I hadn’t had a shot that night – Matty Head had taken the previous shots. I was heading back and one of the trainers called me back saying the call had come down for me to take it. It was probably a blessing as I didn’t have too much time to over think it. To me, as soon as I kicked it, I thought it was going through!

3. After such a good start to your career at Catalans, you unfortunately injured your knee and missed the rest of the season; did you set any goals upon your return and what got you through the rehabilitation?
Yeah, it was very frustrating. Being at a new club and wanting to make a good impression. We had won our first two games, one of them Hull who were beaten in the grand final the year before and leading Leeds by 40 when it happened. It was tough – probably the toughest few months of my career. Trying to be part of a new club in a new country. I was doing everything I could to try and get back on the field.

4.  What were the reasons behind your NRL return in 2009 with the Brisbane Broncos?
I had a third-year option at Catalans and was more than happy to stay. It’s a great club and great supporters, not to mention an amazing part of the world to live in. While we were sorting that out, the Broncos option came up and I thought the opportunity to play for a club like the Broncos was too good to pass up.

5. You took a step away from professional rugby league to take up the coaching role at the Queanbeyan Kangaroos; how has that experience been so far?
Yes, I always wanted to coach and my body wasn’t handling the full-time training. So when I was approached by the Queanbeyan Kangaroos, I jumped at it. They were a club that had a lot of success but hadn’t won a Comp in 30 years so I thought it was a good challenge. We won the 1st two years – 2010 and 11 – got beat in the GF in 2012 and won again in 2013. We made the semis 2014 and final 2015. 2016 was very disappointing. We lost round 1 and went the rest of the year undefeated. We led the GF until the last minute and got beaten by a penalty goal . I’ve enjoyed my time here and hopefully we can win another this year!

6.  In addition to that, has coaching always been an avenue you have wanted to pursue post-footy?
I’ve loved coaching so far and I’d love an opportunity if one pops up. There’s nothing better than seeing someone learn something from you or helping them achieve what they have been working towards.

7. Looking back on your career, what was your career highlight?
There are a few and all for different reasons. Obviously, your debut will always be special. Playing for the Junior Kangaroos was special. I think no matter what level, pulling on your countries jumper will always be special. The kick in Brisbane. The 1st grand final at the Queanbeyan Kangaroos is up there, too. Only a few years before they were getting beat by 100, so to see how much it meant to the players and supporters that were there through the tough times was amazing!

8. If you could give one piece of advice to young, budding rugby league players, what would it be?
Train hard, listen and never stop learning. You can learn something from everyone!

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 1: Kevin Campion

Kevin Campion

Every rugby league fan has their favourite players, their favourite teams and their favourite moments; but have you ever taken a step back and wondered what former rugby league players are up to post-footy?

After a fantastic suggestion to us by a user on Twitter, we made a decision to get in touch with former players and talk to them about their careers, their highlights, their adventures and their memories, as well as advice they would have for budding rugby league players.

In the first part of our new interview series, we had a chat with Kevin Campion, a premiership winner with the Brisbane Broncos, as well as stints with the Gold Coast Seagulls, the St George Dragons, the Adelaide Rams, the New Zealand Warriors & the North Queensland Cowboys.

If you happen to be a fan of those teams, enjoy the read and the interview. Even if you’re not, just enjoy the interview anyway and plenty more to come.

Kevin Campion Interview:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league growing up?
Mostly going to the Mackay showgrounds and watching dad play. I distinctly remember the smell of liniment from the old sheds and playing footy with all my mates on the dog track that circled the main field with anything that resembled a ball.

2. Throughout your career, you played for 6 different teams; which team did you feel most at home with?
The Broncos. I remember telling Wayne that I wanted to become part of the Broncos Family when I arrived. I loved the place.

3.  In your first year with the Broncos, you won a grand final and scored a try in that game; what was it like to get your hands on the grand final trophy among your team-mates?
It was an amazing experience. To be part of arguably one of the greatest grand final teams of all time is something kids from North Queensland can only dream of.  

4. Born in Sarina and growing up with rugby league in Queensland, was it always a goal of yours to play Origin? When you did, what were your thoughts of it and does it differ from regular club games?
I think it’s every young player who loves the game of rugby league, their dream is to play Origin and it was no different for me. When I finally got my chance, I knew it was a different beast to a club game. The speed and intensity without any room for mistakes are the difference and throw in the pressure from the whole State needing a win.

5. At the 2000 World Cup, you were given the opportunity to represent Ireland; talk to us about that experience and what your Irish heritage means to you.
Yes, my ancestors are from Dublin and when the opportunity presented itself, I thought what a fantastic experience that shouldn’t be passed up and it didn’t disappoint. We were the first Ireland side to make the quarter-finals of a rugby league World Cup and we were just pipped by our arch enemies England by a small margin.

6. Post-footy, how have you been keeping yourself busy and are you still up-to-date with the game at present?
Yes, I am still involved and have recently taken up a mentoring role with the ISC Tweed Heads Seagulls. Loving it.

7. If you could give any young, budding player advice, what would it be?
You are going to have a once in a lifetime experience but if you are not prepared to sacrifice everything in your life for this experience and be prepared for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, then this ride may not be the ride for you.