When we think of the men that play rugby league for our Clubs each week, I don’t think I am alone in thinking – ‘how lucky are they’. These men are given the opportunity each week to wear the jersey of a team which is a focal point of their local community and play rugby league in the best competition in the world.
In Australia, sport is so central to our way of life, so anyone that gets to play sport professionally for a living is immediately thought of as ‘living the dream’.
So often the life of a footballer is depicted as one of glitz and glamour. They train hard but they play hard too. Nights out on the town. Beautiful women. Multi-million dollar contracts. Autographs. Television appearances. Adoring fans. Celebrity status. Thousands of Instagram followers.
So when players like Mitchell Pearce, Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson or Todd Carney are found misbehaving (particularly when they reoffend), the same comments resurface – ‘boofheads with too much time and money on their hands’ and ‘they don’t know how good they have it’.
The stories about players misbehaving are the ones which dominate the mainstream media. Is this really what we as an Australian public want to read about? What I think would be far more powerful would be to profile and to shine the spotlight on some of the lesser known players with great stories. Whether that be Kyle Turner from the South Sydney Rabbitohs that volunteers at Wave Youth Services for 4 hours a week, teaching children in the local community to read or Eloni Vunakece from the Sydney Roosters who made his first grade debut at the age of 28, these are the stories I find far more compelling.
This week, I thought I would share one such story with you.
On Sunday afternoon, in front of over 21,000 fans at Hunter Stadium, the Newcastle Knights posted their first win of the 2016 season defeating the Wests Tigers 18-16. Under new coach Nathan Brown, the team has a lot of growing up to do. It has been acknowledged by most that the club is in the process of rebuilding and despite the efforts of players like Trent Hodkinson, Sam Mataora, Dane Gagai and Korbin Sims, this is going to take some time. But finally, in front of their home crowd, the Knights got the two points.
One of the try-scorers, dare I say the match-winning try scorer, was Nathan Ross (I know I am using the word match-winner quite loosely, seeing as the try was scored in the 47th minute, the Knights already had a lead and the Tigers were next to score… but indulge me – it adds to the theatre of the story.)
Unless you are a Newcastle Knights fan, you probably won’t know much about Nathan Ross.
Ross made his first grade debut for the Knights against the St George Illawarra Dragons in round 21 of last year at age 26. It’s not often that we see a debutant at age 26, but for Ross it was the realisation of a dream that he had been working toward his whole life.
Born on the Gold Coast, Nathan Ross has played rugby league for several clubs. It all started with junior rugby league for the Burleigh Bears and the Coogee Randwick Wombats. His career has seen him play for Toulouse in France, Lakes United, the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs and then finally, he found a home at the Newcastle Knights where he played several years in NSW Cup, was named fullback of the year in 2014 (scoring 17 tries in 16 games) and was re-signed at the end of that year on a 2 year contract.
The road to an NRL debut was one, according to Ross which was full of sacrifice and setbacks including ‘injuries and coaches saying [he] was too small’. Aside from the challenges of playing rugby league, Ross also juggled a job as a health and safety inspector and care of his two year old son, Ziah who, according to Ross ‘is the reason [he] does everything in life’. In order to be a positive role model for his son and ‘encourage him to chase his dreams, do what you love and not worry about the money’, Ross admits that he had to walk the walk before he talked the talk.
Ross is also a larrikin and will make you laugh. He did springboard diving in high school, was captain of his chess team at one stage and happily admits that Love Story is his favourite Taylor Swift song.
Ross is taking the 2016 season ‘one week at a time’ with the ultimate goal of cementing his first grade position. With 2 tries already this season, 490 metres made, 2 line breaks and spectacular leaps through the air to take the high ball, it looks like he already well on his way to achieving his goal for this year.
So the next time the Newcastle Knights play, keep your eye on the speedy winger from the Gold Coast. He plays with a tenacity, toughness, perseverance and dedication which embodies the Novacastrian rugby league community and is someone who is playing rugby league for the love of it.
Ross has often said that ‘rugby league has a funny way of giving back’. I’m confident that for a man that has dedicated so much of his life to his ‘dream of playing first grade’, rugby league will have a funny way of rewarding him in the end as well.
And on the Knights win on Sunday… I’m with Nathan Brown – ‘when you’re sitting on the bottom of the table and 22,000 people turn up – you’ve got to be very happy for the fans’.
Ladies who League xxx