League and union
I’ve been fortunate to make a career in something I’ve always been passionate about, even if it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride.
Early on, it was all about rugby league for me. I played for the St George Dragons and Moorebank Rams and was a huge Canterbury Bulldogs fan. Terry Lamb was my favourite player. I loved that Bulldogs team back then.
When our family moved up to the Central Coast, I played for the Kincumber Colts. But, after a game when I was 14 or 15, my dad had a bit of a go at me, which led to me giving up on league – at least for a while.
My Dad, Brent, is the reason I am where I am today. He showed me what it meant to have a good work ethic, spent hours and hours working on my skills with me in the backyard and taught me to continually strive to be the best I could be. But he pushed me pretty hard.
I thought I’d played pretty well in this particular game, but Dad said, ‘Yeah, you were all right. But you did this, this and this wrong’. I was going through puberty and a bit emotional. I thought, ‘Stuff it, I’m going to go play rugby’.
I rode my bike down to the club at Avoca and within a few months found myself selected in the Country under-15s for a tour of Tonga and Samoa. It was a great trip and I stuck with rugby from then on.
By 2007, I was in the Aussie Schoolboys alongside James Slipper, Matty Toomua, Rob Horne, James O’Connor – it was a pretty red-hot team.
I had offers from the Reds, Tahs and Brumbies after that and chose the Brumbies because they had a great team and I thought it would be a good place to learn. Unfortunately, I had a couple of pretty horrid years there – apart from meeting my lovely wife. An ACL tear put me out for a long time. When I came back to the Vikings, Mick O’Connor offered me a spot in the Sevens squad.
I got to travel to some great places to play. But, in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to have another crack at rugby league.
By playing rugby, I gained confidence in other areas of my life, such as reading and, all of a sudden, I’d read five or six books in a year.
Out of the blue, a friend of a family friend who was a rugby league manager contacted me to say he’d come across my highlights on YouTube. He asked if I’d like to come across to have a go at league. I was in the middle of contract negotiations with the ARU, so the timing seemed OK.
I went in for a meeting with Jason Taylor, David Kidwell and the coaching staff at the Tigers, and they convinced me to have a crack at it. I thought it was now or never.
After the pre-season camp, I was named to start in a trial match against Melbourne Storm on the Sunshine Coast. However, in the captain’s run the night before the game, I took the ball up, ran through the line, stepped on a player’s foot and rolled my ankle.
I played a couple of NSW Cup games when I came back from injury, but Sevens coach Andy Friend got me to do a jersey presentation before the inaugural Sydney Sevens, in 2016, which got me thinking. Sevens had also been included at the Olympics. Friendy was saying I’d be welcomed back if I wanted to go.
I had a really honest conversation with Jason Taylor and, basically, decided, ‘I’m not missing the Olympics to play NSW Cup’.
It was April and the Olympics were in August. I’d put a lot of weight on for league and wasn’t all that fit for Sevens, so they put a lot of Ks into me to get back, really busted me. It turned out to be a disappointing tournament for us in Rio, but it was great to be involved in the Sevens set-up again.
Future is Sevens
The first Sydney Sevens that I was able to play in was last year – and we won. I want another taste of that. It was one of the best feelings of my life. My baby daughter Mieke, Carlien, my family and friends were all there. It was huge. This weekend’s Sydney Sevens will be another great event.
I also see the Sydney Sevens as a massive opportunity to showcase what we’ve got as a sport and as athletes. I’ve been across 15s and played rugby league, but I don’t know if there’s anything harder than the training we do for Sevens Rugby. It’s really intense, so it’s nice to be recognised for that.
On a wider scale, the way rugby is at the moment, Sevens can be a way forward for our code. There are country towns and regional centres where the game’s dying and clubs are folding.
They’re struggling to get enough players for 15-a-side, but Sevens can be a way to keep rugby on the radar at a time when AFL is growing and rugby league is popular.
If we can keep a presence and keep promoting the game to kids and showing them they can become future Olympians, there’s a way forward there.
Of course, it’s our women’s team that’s leading the way at the moment. They’re the Olympic champions and it’s amazing how far they’ve come in recent years.
I’ve enjoyed seeing them go from strength to strength. Mieke loves them, too, and even gets to hang out with the players sometimes. They’re great role models, which is what it’s really all about.