‘Of course I’m nervous!’
For weeks it’s been on the horizon. Now it’s reality. This Friday and Saturday, I line up for the Sydney Roosters in the NRL Nines in Perth. I’m actually really excited.
Am I nervous? Of course.
But this is the culmination of a process going all the way back to November. I’ve gone through periods of training and tests and all that sort of stuff, and I’m just excited to go out there and give it my best.
As a former AFL player who retired in 2008 and who turns 40 next month, there are obviously many guys in rugby league who are a lot larger and scarier than I am. The Roosters are drawn against Penrith, the Warriors and the Knights in our pool, and we play the first match of the tournament against the Panthers on Friday night.
Big forward Viliame Kikau is a pretty good player for Penrith. He’s 119 kilos so that’s pretty scary, while Ken Maumalo at the Warriors is a 111-kilo winger. I’m not too keen to make contact with some of those boys!
But I’m going to play to my strengths. I’ll be kicking the ball as much as possible – cross-field kicks, kicking it long, trying for 40-20s, that sort of thing. I don’t think I’ll be carrying the ball forward too much or trying to make 20 tackles in the middle of the ground, that’s for sure.
Obviously, I’m not going out there to make a career in rugby league. I’m under no illusion about how tough it’s going to be, but I’ve been training for a few months now and I’m really looking forward to it.
A two-code kid
I was born in Melbourne into an AFL family. My dad played for Collingwood, but we moved to Sydney when I was four and I’ve always enjoyed watching the game of rugby league as much as AFL.
I played schoolboy rugby league up until the age of 15 or 16 and was mostly a fullback because I could catch and run and kick. So I guess I’ll just be playing to my old skillset this week.
Over the years I’ve made mates who have played in the NRL, and some of them still do. I’ve always appreciated the skill and physicality of what they do, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with the outside backs at the Roosters for a couple of years, in addition to my role in skill development with the Sydney Swans Academy.
You definitely get a new appreciation of the type of athlete and skillset that is required for top-level rugby league when you work with NRL players.
— Sydney Roosters 🏆🏆 (@sydneyroosters) January 17, 2020
For me this weekend, the most exciting thing is just being able to compete, and to try to help the Roosters be competitive and win games of footy, whether that means catching and passing, or scoring a try, or trying to kick that crucial 40-20.
A lot of people are talking about the worst-case scenario. About the bad things that could happen. I’m not stupid; I’ve watched rugby league my whole life and I know what these guys can do. But if I was going in with that sort of mindset, I would have pulled out a month ago.
I know what’s in front of me and it’s a good challenge.
The main thing is just to get out there and be competitive. It will almost certainly be my last dance in top-level sport. I can’t wait to take the field and play my role.
THAT day in 2005
People always ask me about that famous semi-final in 2005, when I kicked four goals in the final quarter to help the Swans beat Geelong by three points after being down by 17 points at three-quarter time, and then go on to win that year’s AFL Premiership.
For me, it was a life-changing moment that I was able to play such a crucial role that day, and I guess I’ve taken some life lessons going forward, especially on the mental side of things.
The main lesson is that if you practise hard and have absolute belief in what you’re doing, then you can achieve whatever you set out to achieve in life. If you work hard and put in the hours, then these things can happen.
At the Swans, we put it an enormous amount of time and effort as a group that year, and had a lot of belief that we could do something big. Obviously, we won a premiership together, so going forward in life, whatever it is, no matter how big or how small, if you put in hard work and the time, you can achieve anything.
Hopefully, the Roosters can achieve something special in Perth this weekend and kick off the 2020 NRL season on the right note.