Sport

Canberra Raiders’ Blake Austin on the beautiful language of sport. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: LIGHTBULB STUDIO

Back in the game: Blake Austin, 25, rugby league player

Footy’s my life. I haven’t really ever put much time into anything else. I’m not really into my cars. I’m not really into music. When I was in year 7, my mum and my dad went out and bought me the best guitar. But I was rubbish at it. I don’t have the patience. All my thoughts are consumed with rugby league, and I just love the game. Kids are probably my only hobby. We’ve got two, and a third one is due in a few weeks. You don’t get time for hobbies when you’ve got them little ones running around.

I played a few different sports growing up, but they were just things to fill the summer while I waited for footy to come back around. I had my hat in a few rings. I was pretty good at athletics, and I was a handy baseballer as well up until I was 12 or 13. But league was the ultimate. I was a Parramatta fan and my favourite player was David Vaealiki. He wore green boots and he wore his socks down and he had really big calf muscles. As I got older, I started looking up to a lot of running five-eighths like Greg Bird, Todd Carney and Trent Barrett.

Last year, I played some of the best footy of my life. [Raiders coach] Ricky Stuart has given me the confidence to play the way I want to play. He hasn’t put too much responsibility onto my shoulders. He lets me play what’s in front of me, and has really encouraged me to take the line on. And I really enjoyed the move to Canberra, too – I can’t speak highly enough of it. It’s super easy. I’d rather be driving around in circles in Canberra than sitting in one spot in Sydney. And my missus loves it, too, which makes it easier.

It would’ve been naive to think I’d put the challenges behind me. And this year, I’ve had more tests, a few injuries and a few more struggles. I did my shoulder at the end of last year, and that’s probably been the most challenging injury I’ve ever had to deal with. Not much went to plan in the rehab, and it dragged on a lot longer than it should have.

I managed to make it onto the paddock for round one, then got sidelined again. I’ve played a few games back to back now, and I’m better for the runs and working hard to ensure that I’m peaking at the right time of the season. It’s been frustrating, but that’s the game we play. I’m learning to deal with the injuries now: not kicking stones, just getting back out there and doing what you love.

We can really set ourselves up over the next five or six weeks. This part of the season was costly to us last year, and it’s probably going to be the make or break of this season as well. But we’re quite confident about what’s coming up, and we’re looking to bag plenty of wins. As me and Aidan [Sezer] are getting more and more games together, we’re getting better and hopefully we can really grab the ball and take control of the team in this second half of the season.

I read the other day the NRL plan to have a women’s league by 2021, and I think it’d be great. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be a success. There are a lot of women out there who are really passionate about our game, and I think they deserve a competition. I talk to my mum about everything footy.

Do I speak Portuguese? Nah, mate. It’s a common question I get, because I played some Test matches for Portugal. I was a young kid and I got invited to come along and play a Test match against Malta, who had a few current NRL players in their side. I thought it was a bit of a thrill to run out there against them. I was one of their better players, so they invited me back a few times. But, no, I don’t have Portuguese heritage.

The language of sport is a beautiful thing. It brings kids together from all walks of life. I’ve got a lot of time for kids and, a few years back, I coached a team in Western Sydney and really enjoyed that and got a lot out of it. It’s not something I’ve been doing as heavily since moving to Canberra, but it’s definitely something I’ll do again in the future. Will I coach once I finish playing? Possibly. But that’s a long time away. Hopefully.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 2, 2016 as "Back in the game". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.