NRL: Royal tour of duty lands at Warriors

By Michael Brown

Jesse Royal realised he had made the right decision roughly 12.5 seconds after running onto Brookvale Oval last weekend.

The 28-year-old front rower scored a crucial try with his first touch against Manly last weekend, snaffling a Steve Price offload and swerving past Manly fullback Michael Robertson to help the Warriors to a 26-24 win.

For Royal, it finally cast aside lingering doubts that it had been a mistake to join the Warriors.

He had left a high-paying job in the Newcastle coal mines, as well as local football with Kurri Kurri and a good lifestyle on the New South Wales coast 160km north of Sydney, to relocate to Auckland.

"I suppose I was chucking it up and contemplated whether I had made the right decision," Royal says before last night's match against Brisbane.

"It was a really tough decision because we were so well set-up in Australia. The job paid really well - and I really enjoyed it - my wife had a great job and the boys were in day care. Plus Newcastle is a beautiful place to live.

"But we're back with friends and family [in Auckland] and to get a second chance in the NRL is not something you knock back because I know I would regret it later down the track."

Royal had assumed his NRL career was over when he was released by the Knights after 29 games over two seasons. He was a solid contributor to a Newcastle side that was going through a rebuilding phase with former Illawarra, St George and Eels coach Brian Smith at the helm.

"I would have been more than happy with my lot if that was it," Royal says. "Most blokes don't get to play one NRL game, so to get 29 was a good accomplishment. But now I have a second chance."

The Warriors signed Royal on a two-year deal as injury cover for Evarn Tuimavave, who is troubled by a neck injury which might require surgery and keep him out for most of the season.

The club have plenty of props, including Steve Price, Sam Rapira, Russell Packer, Leeson Ah Mau and Mataupu Poching, as well as Tuimavave, but take Price out of the equation and the average age of the others is 20.8 years.

That's where Royal comes in. The club needed a player with experience and maturity.

What they also got was a player with considerable life experience.

Royal joined the army in 1999 to learn a trade and found himself deployed to the kitchens as a chef.

He spent a six-month stint in East Timor and also found his once tall and skinny body which was more suited to basketball - he was knocked out a couple of times playing league as a kid when he was "too puny" and gave the game away - was filling out with all of the military training.

He began playing rugby league socially and then for the Central Falcons in the Bartercard Cup when his military commitments allowed and found admirers were not too far away.

He toured England in 2003 with New Zealand A and was also offered a trial with Penrith in 2004.

It was a risk, but one he couldn't resist, and he took a year off from the army to see if he could make it in the NRL.

"Once that year was up, I was going back to the army," says Royal, who spent three years playing NSW Premier League for the Panthers and Knights before he made his NRL debut in 2007.

"I will never go back to the army. The army lifestyle doesn't appeal any more and everyone I knew, who were like a family, have all moved on."

It's what Royal chose to do when he left the coal mines of Newcastle recently, as much as it was a wrench.

- Herald on Sunday

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