Carting it up with Stevo

NRL Battlers play on

Being a first grade NRL player can be perceived as a glamorous, high profile career, and for the most part is true. The far majority are paid well, and they all get a fair share of freebies, fancy cars and endless evenings at the most exclusive venues.

Right? Well maybe for some, but there is a group of players that don?t have such luxuries. In fact these players don?t even know if they will still have a gig next year, let alone whether their bookie will have change for a hundred.

They are the battlers of the NRL. While regular first graders and young up-and-comers can focus on the latest training techniques and shaking-off a few niggling injuries, these blokes are thrown into teams, often at a moments notice, to fill in for an injured star. Sometimes they are given one or two games to prove their worth, usually when the team is performing badly and is out of sorts. Generally these players are of the understanding that their next NRL game could be their last, one season ending injury and they?re another bush footy player reminiscing about the time they played in the big league. That?s not to say these players are washed up. Unlike players such as Chris Walker or Richard Villisanti, these players haven?t tasted representative football or even enjoyed a long term contract. For these footballers their achievement lies in the fact they?re on the field.

So as the season proper comes to a conclusion, it?s an opportune time to tribute the success of this year?s group of battlers.

Vince Mellars- Played for Newtown last year when they had an arrangement with the Cronulla club, but the Sharks weren?t interested. Stuck with the Jets and, through their new association with the Sydney Roosters, played a few games in the NRL this year. With the turmoil at the Roosters this season, he may get more opportunities next year.

George Gatis- What a worker! Was happy to work in his parent?s seafood shop this year, when a chance meeting with Kevin Campion led to a one year deal with the Warriors. He hasn?t looked back, even proving his work ethic by working part time at a seafood shop in Auckland this year when money was tight. Sixteen NRL appearances this season has led to him signing a new one year contract.

Neil Sweeney- A Newcastle local who is a battler from way back. Signed by Manly from a Newcastle local league team after missing out on NRL junior grade selection. In 5 first grade seasons with the Knights and the Cowboys he has played just 41 games, usually as a fill in for injured players. Coach Graham Murray has put faith in him this season and has selected Sweeney on merit. A plasterer by trade, the 28 year old will continue to fight on next season after signing a one year contract earlier this year.

Craig Trindall- Some people win the lottery, others are selected to play halfback for Penrith. Trindall started the year playing for the Windsor Wolves in front of around 1,000 spectators. Last week he led the Panthers around the park (albeit to a loss), in front of 23,000 fans at Energy Australia Stadium. Not a bad promotion.

George Rose- Played for Penrith, then the Roosters (mainly in Premier League). Before the Sea Eagles signed him he must have thought the opportunity to become an NRL regular may have passed. Six months later, Rose is a regular first grader, and an irregular visitor to McDonalds. He is poised to be a key player for the Sea Eagles finals tilt.

Craig Stapleton- Is on pittance at the Panthers, but his hard work in the Penrith pack this season has earned him a 2 year contract with the Sharks. Proof that age will never hinder a hard worker.