Hey Justin, tell us a bit about yourself?
I grew up in Queensland and I was born in Warrick, which is on the border of NSW and QLD. I’m a proud Queenslander as my daughters were born there and especially since playing Rugby Union and Rugby League is such a big sport over there. My family moved to a small town named Hughenden which is mid-west Queensland and 4 hours west of Townsville. For high school I moved to Townsville which was a boarding school. I met some of my best mates and it taught me a lot of great life skills that helped me when I moved to Melbourne on my own. I had to organize my own washing and laundry, be on time and prioritize my studies.
Growing up I played Rugby Union at school and Rugby League on the weekends which was like club football. One weekend I played in a competition in Cairns and Storm had a scout there, where I was approached and asked to sign me up, but I was only 15 years old. At that stage I couldn’t be signed onto a contract, only a scholarship if anything. In 2009, once I finished school there was an opportunity to play with Melbourne Storm as a part of the junior team. I was also a development officer on the side for the club and we’d go out to schools and teach students how to play Rugby League. In 2010, I debuted off the back of bad media of the salary cap scandal. We were stripped of all our competition points; prior premierships were tough. The club had nothing to lose so they pushed the juniors into first grade giving me an on-field opportunity. It was a massive achievement to win the premiership with them through the years played there. In 2014 I moved to Townsville to play for the Cowboys, and in 2015 we won the premiership there. I played with them up until 2021 where I decided to go into medical retirement. In the end I just had to call it, I didn’t retire wishing I’d done anything more, I was more than happy with my career.
Was NRL always your passion?
I couldn’t play the game without passion. Professional sport has its highs and lows, the highs are so high that sometimes you’ll never feel anything as good as it, like back-to-back wins and winning a premiership - you feel anything is possible. But in the end, it’s a game, you’re so focused and you are fully committed. I loved it but I looked forward to not having that stress week after week as well. I wanted to have a weekend off where I didn’t have to think about a win or a loss and I could knock off on a Friday, which is what I do now as a carpenter.
How did it feel to win two premierships with two different teams?
It was different! It’s crazy because I have a huge tattoo of the Melbourne Storm premiership on my rib – one of the most painful places to get it and the Cowboys wanted me to get one but hurt too much. People always ask me which one you prefer more. My first one was special because I never thought I’d do it again. Guys I look up play their whole career and don’t win a premiership or let alone a loss. I was so young (21 years old) and I never thought this would happen again. The feeling of winning so young and early on in my career, that was the difference. The way the second grand final happened was historic as we were behind with no time on the clock left but we somehow pushed through and got the ball back and our captain Johnathan Thurston kicked it, and we end up winning by one point. It was an ultimate grand final to be a part of.
Family plays a big part in your life, what part of their support meant the most to you?
Family is my priority. I always said that if I had to choose family over career, I would always choose family. I had my girls earlier in my career which gave me the chance to enjoy it with them. They have memories of me playing and grabbing them after a winning game from the family corner to do a lap of honor. Even though this sport has a lot of up and downs, they’ve always been my foundation and ground me as they didn’t care if I lost or won. My daughters would say I played awesome regardless of the outcome, they were worried about different things like whether or not if I saw them in the crowd waving. I had said to myself to stay focused and don’t try to find them but towards the end of my career I said to myself that I may not be doing this in a few years’ time, so stuff it. I’ll look out for them and make sure they know I see them.
Give us one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
I learnt over the years how to control my stress leading into games, as I was a pretty stressful young kid, wearing my heart on my sleeve would take the losses personally. A loss of a game would weigh on me and it would be all I’d think about. Even though you don’t want to focus on all the negative things you’re reiterating them internally, so you have to change your thinking and reiterate it into positive thinking like catching the ball or playing a great game. My advice would be to enjoy it more, clear my mind and not focus on the result so much. I think I missed out on so much enjoyment of my early career because I was so focused on the outcome.
What does your day-to-day look like now that you’re off the field?
It starts pretty early now even though I love my sleep in’s, with footy we started at 7am whereas now I’m getting up at 5am. Once I wake up, get ready, make a coffee and head to work and knock off at 3:30pm in my new career as a tradie. I don’t choose to work weekends, so I get my weekends back now which I enjoy so much. My mates now always ask ‘don’t you miss it’ and I don’t because I get my weekends back and my body has just had it of being beat up and sore. I get to enjoy my weekends now with my girls, even get to pick them up from school now which is great. I always envisioned doing that as a Dad whatever career I did.
How would you describe your clothing style?
It would smart-casual - I love a pair of boots, jeans, and a t-shirt so pretty chill. But I do like to get dressed up. So, a bit of both.
One pair of Rhino’s you’re loving at the moment?
QUICK FIRE ROUND
Early-Bird or Night-Owl? Night-owl
Summer or Winter? Definitely summer
Knock Off Drink of Choice? A Great Northern Beer
Favourite Food? Pork-belly with crackling
Introvert or Extrovert? Both
Keep up to date with Justin and his family & new career on Instagram