Brown takes up 2021 player option with Eels

Parramatta Eels forward Nathan Brown

He may not be quite ready to go but Nathan Brown has taken up the 2021 player option to remain with the Parramatta Eels.

Brown, who has become a fan favourite for his hard-running and aggressive style, will yet again don the blue and gold.

With players having to accept the option  before May 30, Brown knew accepting it before the season starts was best.

“I had to do it before May 30,” Brown said.

“So I thought I would do it before the season starts and now I can move on and just concentrate on playing footy.”

With the Eels building a roster many view as talented, that and several other factors convinced Brown to stay.

“We have a great squad here and I really think we can do something special,” Brown said.

“That’s probably one of the main reasons why.

“All the boys are a really tight squad here and we all get along well together.”

With players hitting their straps and a good blend of youth and experience, Brown said this is the side the players want to be in.

“This is the squad we’ve got now that everyone wants to be a part of and everyone wants to stay,” Brown continued.

“We’re trying to keep as many as we can and everyone’s hoping that we can keep the same squad here for a couple of years.”

Luke Bateman departs Canberra Raiders effective immediately

Canberra Raiders forward Luke Bateman

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recovering from a knee injury, Canberra Raiders forward Luke Bateman has decided to step away. 

Although not an official retirement, Bateman will step away from the game temporarily to assess his options.

When circumstances change and decisions are made, Bateman will look to recommence with the sport.

“It’s been a frustrating period for me with injury with my contract up at the end of the season and uncertainty about what my future may look like,” Bateman said.

Bateman, who played 71 total games for the Raiders club just felt it was right to step away and work for a while.

I’ve decided to finish up with the Raiders and head home and work for a while and get away from footy for a bit,” Bateman continued.

“I’m not retiring from the game and I hope to play again in the future, but at the moment this is the best decision for me.”

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart praised Bateman as a true clubman.

“Luke has been a tremendous servant for the club and always gave his best when he was selected to play for the Raiders,” Stuart said.

“To play 70 first grade games is a wonderful achievement and Luke will always be a Raider and respected for his achievements.”

New Zealand Warriors re-signing promising back-rower Eliesa Katoa

New Zealand Warriors hulking back-rower Eliesa Katoa

He is a hulking powerhouse on the edge and Eliesa Katoa will ply his trade at the New Zealand Warriors, signing a new long-term deal.

Katoa was a surprise inclusion to make his debut in round 1 of the 2020 season and appeared again in round 2, but off the bench.

Katoa’s ability is not in question by Warriors faithful and the man himself is excited to stay.

He had previously opened up on what playing footy means to him.

“It was a shock,” he said on Sky TV.

“The whole reason why I’m playing is to help out my family and my Mum’s happy.

“Every time I play, I want to put my best foot forward and just play my best.”

Katoa was a rugby union star in his schoolboy days but the Tamaki College student has huge support from the club.

“He’s a wonderful boy,” said Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney.

“He displays those values every day whether it’s at training or helping Laurie (Hale) by bringing equipment in.

“You wish you had 30 of them. Eli’s a really important part of our club’s future.”

Also echoing the sentiments of the coach was Warriors club captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who praised Katoa.

“We first saw him as this big Tongan boy, how they breed every Tongan – big and strong,” he said.

“He did a tough preseason with us and has been killing it ever since on the footy park.

In our first two games, he was our man of the match, so well deserved.”

Tuivasa-Sheck also praised Katoa’s mentality in wanting to learn and absorb information.

“The mentality he has now is that all he wants to do is learn, feed off the other players, feed off the coaches and the management staff,” he continued.

I just tell him to keep that growth mindset and wanting to learn.”

Rabbitohs centre Roberts checks into rehabilitation facility

South Sydney Rabbitohs centre James Roberts

James Roberts has had his battles in the past and the South Sydney Rabbitohs centre has checked into rehab.

The Rabbitohs have rallied behind their talented centre and released a statement.

“Rabbitohs player James Roberts has entered a facility to undergo treatment to assist with and support his health.

On behalf of James and his family, we ask the media and the public to respect their privacy.

No further comment will be made by the Rabbitohs, James, his management or his family at this time.”

This is the third time he has checked into rehab after two previous stints in Thailand.

This particular rehab stint is not believed to be linked with alcohol but instead with personal demons.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 25: Ben Cross

Former rugby league player Ben Cross in his NSW Blues jumper

The rugby league interviews never stop as we have a chat with Ben Cross, a former NRL and SL player, now rugby league coach. 

Ben Cross enjoyed stints with the Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors and Widnes Vikings.

Since then, he has forged a successful coaching career and stayed active in the sport.

So sit back, take a sip of that cold one and let us entertain you with our Ben Cross interview. Here are the questions:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league?

Watching it as a kid and playing in the backyard with my brother and neighbours in Wagga.

I started playing when I went to high school in Year 7 when I was aged 12.

It was for the under 14’s and we had a ball lost the grand final.

I used to sit and watch old State of Origin games my dad taped and always dreamed of playing in the sky blue jersey one day over and over again.

I love those old games.

2. You made your debut for the Canberra Raiders; run us through the experience of your debut game and were you expecting the call-up?

A Channel 9 game on Sunday afternoon, free to air TV; how much better could it get?!

I started the game for Ryan O’Hara who was out injured and I had been playing really well in NSW cup in my first year at a NRL club.

Just a couple of months before this, I was playing in the local league.

I just remember thinking to myself I can’t believe I’m out here with guys like Trent Barrett, Jason Ryles, Luke Bailey, Mark Gasnier and playing with Ruben Wiki, Simon Woolford etc and holding my own.

Former Newcastle Knights prop Ben Cross

3. Melbourne was your next stop and in 2007, you reached the grand final and won; what was grand final day like?

Grand final day and winning was the best feeling ever after losing the year before.

Being able to get back there just made it more special.

I was in doubt all week with a hamstring injury and in a way it took my mind off the game and gave me something else to focus on all week.

It was a great reward for all the people who had helped me along in my career because it was for them as well.

4. You then spent a few years with the Newcastle Knights but asked for a release in 2010; was the opportunity in England too good to pass up?

Yeah, I was 31 at the time and came into the NRL at 24 and could see I was running out of time.

Leeds made an inquiry so I jumped at the chance to get over to the UK.

I had 3 great years there.

The first, a pretty rough year after leaving Leeds half way through the year as I and a few other players weren’t in the coach’s plans.

Going to Wigan, I broke my arm twice and then missing the Challenge Cup final was a kick in the guts but myself and my family were living in a great little village called Standish.

The move to Widnes was to help a new club coming into Super league.

It was a tough first year but we got better the second year as we recruited better and the players started to handle the step up.

I left with great memories and good friends.

Former rugby league prop Ben Cross playing for Melbourne

5. On your time in England with Leeds, Widnes and Wigan, how did you feel the game differed from the NRL?

The intensity of the game isn’t the same from week to week.

There is a big drop in standard from the top 4-5 to the bottom 3-4 teams.

This is unlike the NRL where every week regardless of where the team is on the table you need to be on your game.

Just the speed of the NRL feels faster.

The physicality of the UK game was very tough and challenging but not in the same consistent way as it is in the NRL.

6. You returned to Australia to then coach back at the Knights and have since become the NSW Women’s coach; was coaching always something you had considered?

I always wanted to get into coaching.

I started while playing at Widnes and I coached an under 16’s and under 18’s team in Wigan for 2 years before returning to Newcastle and hooking up with the Knights NSW cup team for 2 seasons.

I then coached in the local competition in Newcastle with Souths Merewether while coaching the NSW Women’s Origin team.

I was also coaching at Hunter Sports High School and my sons under 8’s team.

I just love coaching and helping people become better people and hopefully better rugby league players.

It’s a career I’ll continue to pursue for a long time.

Former rugby league prop Ben Cross playing for Widnes

7. Away from footy, what else do you do to keep busy?

I’ve got 3 kids and a needy dog so I’m fairly busy all the time with them, along with a fair bit of study so that’s pretty much me sorted all the time.

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

Do more than what’s required at training.

What you’re doing at training is the bare minimum you should be doing.

If you want to be like everyone else, well, then that’s fine.

But if you want to be an NRL player and take your game to a higher level than the norm. you need to be doing more than the others.

In every aspect; sleep more, train more, mediate more, study more.

The more you put in, the more you’ll get in return. You’re investing in yourself.

NSW Women’s Origin coach Ben Cross

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 24: Michael Witt

Former Parramatta Eels half Michael Witt

The Parramatta Eels, Manly Sea Eagles, New Zealand Warriors and St George Illawarra Dragons all enjoyed the play of Michael Witt.

Witt also ventured to England with stints for the Crusaders and the London Broncos.

He provided the NRL and the English teams with some stand-out moments.

A talented half, injury cut his career short but he reflects on footy, England and his career post-footy.

Enjoy the read and the answers from the man himself:

1. What are your earliest memories of rugby league? 

I remember playing with my oldest brother for the Newtown Lions in Toowoomba.

He made a break run pretty much the length of the field and waited in the in goal for me.

Once I got there, he gave me the ball and I dived over to score.

2. You made your debut with the Parramatta Eels; what do you recall from the game and was it an opportunity you were expecting?

Paul Green was injured the week before so I thought I may be a slight chance to play.

I had started the season really well in reserve grade and we had won our first 3 games.

I remember getting the call from coach. I was pretty nervous.

We were playing the Roosters who had just come off winning the GF the year before and they had some huge names in Fittler and co.

Michael Witt playing for the Manly Sea Eagles (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

3. Your time at the Eels came to an abrupt end when the club decided not to retain you despite your contract; what ran through your mind when that happened and what prompted your move to Manly?

I got a call out of the blue from Noel Cleal who I lived with when I first moved to Sydney.

He was now at Manly and said we want you here.

That’s all I needed to hear and we got the deal done pretty quickly.

4. The New Zealand Warriors were your next side; what was it like across the Tasman and run us through that famous 2008 win against the Melbourne Storm when you scored the winning try? 

My wife and I loved our time in Auckland.

I rang Steve Price when I received an offer from the Warriors and he gave the place a huge wrap so we decided to take the leap.

That try, well, it was never in doubt.

Capped off an amazing game where no-one gave us a chance to win. We were super confident that day.

I put the ball down (eventually) but it was the 2 guys who touched the ball earlier in that play that came up with amazing play.

Jerome [Ropati] & Manu [Vatuvei].

Michael Witt during his playing days for the New Zealand Warriors

5. You moved to England and played for the Crusaders and the London Broncos; what prompted the move to England and looking back, how was your experience over there?

It was an opportunity really.

I had a short stint in Rugby which didn’t go great so I decided to take the opportunity over there.

I always wanted to play in the UK.

Probably not that early in my career but we really enjoyed our 4 years over there.

6. You returned to the NRL with the St George Illawarra Dragons but injuries cut your career short; was it tough not being able to go out on your own terms?

Yes it was. Certainly not the way you picture finishing your career.

These things happy in footy. I had the opportunity to play on but decided to call it a day.

My eldest daughter was about to start school and we didn’t want to move her around.

Michael Witt at the St George Illawarra Dragons

7. Post-rugby league, have you remained involved with the game in some capacity and how do you keep busy now?

Not really.

I decided this year to get back and do a little coaching with the U18 Burleigh Bears who play in the Mal Meninga Cup.

That only lasted 1 game with Covid 19 hitting and our season was cancelled.

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

Always use your manners and look after the people who help you alone the way ?

Former rugby league player Michael Witt

 

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 23: Nick Kouparitsas

Former Canterbury Bulldogs forward Nick Kouparitsas

This time, we had a chat with former Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs forward and Greek international, Nick Kouparitsas. 

The proud Greek will talk about rugby league life, what it meant to play for Greece, post-footy and more.

Just another insight into the life of a rugby league player so sit back, soak it in and enjoy.

Here are the questions we put to Nick Kouparitsas:

1. You were born in Canberra; what are your earliest memories of rugby league in the nation’s capital? 

My earliest memories definitely was the cold mornings.

I remember the younger you were, the earlier on Sunday mornings you played so most Sunday’s you were first on the oval and the fields were covered in frost and fog.

But we all loved it. I played for West Belconnen Warriors throughout all my junior footy.

2. In 2001, you made an appearance for the Australian Schoolboys side; describe to us how it felt to make that side.

It was a great feeling.

We had a pretty good side too with a few of the players going on to represent Australia at senior level also.

The traveling English team was supposed to be the best they had sent in years.

I am pretty sure they had players in the team that were playing regular first grade in the Super League at the time.

We beat them both games.

Nick Kouparitsas in his playing days for the Sydney Roosters

3. You had stints in the NRL with both the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters; what was it like to play in the NRL and did you think you would play for over 5 years? 

Playing in the NRL was my dream and growing up, that is all I wanted to do.

I used to think to myself I would be happy to play just one NRL game.

Then when I got my first taste of it I didn’t want to go back to reserve grade.

I was lucky to debut during the Origin period.

At the Bulldogs, we had a fair few players out representing so I got my opportunity.

It was against the Raiders, I don’t think I had a very good game.

4. You then joined Harlequins (now the London Broncos); what prompted the move to England and how did the English game differ from the NRL at the time?

It was 2010 and I was at the Roosters. We made the GF and lost.
I didn’t take part in the final and could tell the Roosters were not going to re-sign me.
We had Brian Smith as a coach, technically a great coach, but he was hot and cold as a man manager.
He used to say and do some pretty strange things.
I had my manager look around and he asked if OS was an option and it went from there. 
The English game is very different. It didn’t seem as structured but it was also slower.
We had some great players in our team but the Harlequins were a poor club, we didn’t have much depth and we suffered.
The best thing about the Super League is the ‘player loan system.’
We had some guys from Wigan who couldn’t crack their first grade side and they were loaned to us which helped.
I think the NRL should adopt the same system.
Former Sydney Roosters forward Nick Kouparitsas
5. You represented Greece on several occasions; what was it like to don the Greek colours?
I loved it. We had so much fun in training and in our games.
We had some really good players that never got the chance to play first grade but they lifted for Greece. It was a really enjoyable time.
I remember the games against Italy and Malta were physical and there were a few good punch ups too.
I played in the Greek team with both of my brothers which was a real highlight of my time playing league.
6. We noticed that you now work in real estate; tell us a bit about what you do and why you chose to move into real estate.
Yes, I have been in real estate for 7 years now, very similar to pro sports.

There is flexibility and you get out what you put in, a lot of ups and downs but I love it. 
7. Finally, what advice do you have for budding rugby league players? 
That is a tough question.
I guess looking back, play every game like it is your last because it may not feel like it at the time but it does end.
Nick Kouparitsas post-footy

 

Kaufusi takes up player option with Storm for 2021

Melbourne Storm back-rower Felise Kaufusi

A mainstay of their side for several years now, Felise Kaufusi will extend his Melbourne Storm stay by a further year.

Kaufusi opted to take up the option in his contract that keeps him at the Storm until the end of the 2021 season.

Since debuting in 2014, Kaufusi is one of three brothers to have played for the Storm.

With more than 100 first-grade games to his name and a 2017 premiership to boot, Kaufusi has achieved plenty in the game.

Kaufusi has also represented Queensland, Tonga and Australia in his career and the Storm are pleased to retain him.

Ricky’s NRL Interviews Pt 22: Justin Murphy

Justin Murphy playing for the New Zealand Warriors (photo courtesy of Getty Images).

We another interview for you, this time it’s Justin Morgan, a former Canterbury Bulldogs, New Zealand Warriors, Widnes Vikings and Catalans Dragons winger.

The Sydney-born winger enjoyed success as a player and a coach and talks about his rugby league career and life beyond.

In addition, one of his greatest achievements was representing France and he touches on that.

So enjoy; Justin Murphy and his wonderful answers:

1. What is your earliest rugby league memory?

My earliest memories are of playing in the back yard with my brother and my father coaching me.

He played for North Sydney in the 70s. The first game that I remember watching is the 1986 Grand Final with all the Eels kit on.

2. Your debut came in 2000 with the Canterbury Bulldogs; what was the experience like and were you expecting it?

My dream was to play NRL and I left the Broncos for an opportunity.

Before my first NRL game, I hadn’t even trained with the first grade side the night before the game.

Steve Folkes called me and told me I would be playing as Willie Talau got injured.

We played the Brisbane Broncos who were the best team in 2000 and Darren Smith told me to just talk and support.

The game went by so quick. We lost, I got a try and that was my only game in first grade for the Bulldogs but it was a dream come true.

My first NRL game was against my old club, the Broncos.

Then my first game for the Warriors was against my former team the Bulldogs. 

Justin Murphy in his Catalans Dragons jersey (courtesy i

3. You played in the 2002 grand final with the Warriors; what was the grand final experience like despite the unfortunate loss?

It was the most memorable experience of my career to play in a Grand Final.

A few weeks earlier, I had torn a muscle in my abductor and I was unsure if I’d be right.

I missed the first final and came back for the game against Sharks to get into the Grand Final.

My speed still wasn’t 100% and in the Grand Final, I got an intercept and wasn’t confident in going 90m so I sort of submitted.

I wish I  would of backed myself and had a go for the tryline.

Playing in the 2002 Warriors team with great players and the freedom to play with vision was very enjoyable.

We had players like Ali Lauiti’iti,  Clinton Toopi and Stacey Jones who were the best players in their positions in the world.

4. You had a brief stint at Widnes before shining with Catalans; what was your rugby league experience like in France?

My first year was the year before Catalans went into Super League and we were preparing the French players for professional rugby league.

We went through the season undefeated winning the Lorde Derby Cup and the championship.

The only game we lost was in the Challenge Cup to Wigan in a close game.

We trained at St Esteve and I remember a group of us players helped move the gym gear in and set up and paint the place.

The training facilities were not very good.

In our first season in Super League, we had a good group but it was a learning and development stage for the club.

To be in the first ever team for Catalans and to play Wigan in Perpignan and win, is something I’m very proud of.

I was chosen in the 2006 Dream Team and Super League’s Top Try Scorer which I’m also proud of.

Justin Murphy in his Canterbury Bulldogs gear

5. You played at the international level for France; what did donning the Les Bleus jersey mean to you?

My wife is French and we have 3 Australian/French children, so to represent France and play at International level is something I’m grateful for.

6. Living in the South of France now, how do you keep yourself busy work wise? Do you currently have any involvement with rugby league?

We decided to move back to France last year to be closer to my wife’s family and give our children the experience of living in the French culture.

I have been coaching Toulon Marlins in the French Elite 2 division and doing coaching and development at schools.

Former NRL and SL player Justin Murphy

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

Work hard, be dedicated, willing to sacrifice and use setbacks positively to drive your ambitions.

Tonumaipea back in the NRL signing train and trial deal with Titans

New Gold Coast Titans recruit Young Tonumaipea

Young Tonuamaipea has returned to the NRL, signing a train and trial deal with the Gold Coast Titans.

Tonumaipea, who was in Germany completing his Mormon mission, had previously played 44 NRL games for the Melbourne Storm.

Tonumaipea is excited to return and look forward to what lies ahead at the Titans.

“I’ve been away for a couple of years and have come back with all of this COVID-19 stuff happening but I’m grateful to the Gold Coast Titans for giving me this opportunity and I plan on taking it with both hands,” Tonumaipea said.

“It’s awesome to be back in Australia and here at the Titans.”

With the challenge of competing for a spot ahead, Tonumaipea is determined to work hard and prove himself.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge that is ahead,” the new Titans winger continued.

“I’ll definitely apply myself and I’m looking for a spot at some stage this year. I’ll do my best at everything I can.”

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