The McCarthy column: The year that was down under

Former Warrington forward Tyrone McCarthy starts his new TotalRL column by looking backing on his 12 months playing in Australia…

As I was waiting to go in to surgery after a tough campaign, I was sat reflecting on what a difference a year makes.

This time last year I decided to leave my hometown club Warrington Wolves and go on to a new challenge in Australia.

It was a really tough decision, as I had so many great memories and friends at the club I had supported since a boy. 

In addition I didn’t really know what to expect when arriving at Northern Pride RLFC. I had only been sold the opportunity by coach Jason Demetriou, who has now been signed as an assistant by North Queensland.

Thankfully, Tony Smith and the club allowed me to continue training with the Wolves until I departed at Christmas into the heat of Aussie summer, which I am really grateful for.

In my first weekend in Cairns we got together as a team to set out our goals for the season, which included being the most consistent team in the competition and taking out Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup.

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With that would come the opportunity to play the winners of the NSW Cup for the NRL state championship, which would be played on NRL Grand Final day at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium. This would be the first time the two winners have faced each other to claim the title of the best team in Australia outside the NRL.

We began our season steadily picking up our performances throughout the year, finishing as league leaders. We had to win one game to qualify for the Queensland Cup grand final against East Tigers, which was a tight 8-7 victory. We then faced the same team again in the grand final, however starting red hot we finished comfortable 36-4 winners.

So we achieved what we set out from the start of the season, to play on the day of the NRL’s showpiece event. We made our way down to Sydney via Brisbane two days before the big game against the Penrith Panthers. No one gave us a chance – all the media were talking about how good the Penrith team was and had us at 5/1 to win.

In all aspects this was plugged as a real David and Goliath battle, as the Panthers had several players who had turned out for their first-grade NRL side throughout the year.

McCarthy is an Ireland international who will play for Hull Kingston Rovers in 2015
McCarthy is an Ireland international who will play for Hull Kingston Rovers in 2015

However, I was quietly confident having seen what we could produce throughout the year and the never-say-die attitude of the boys. We actually enjoyed playing as the underdogs after being favourites for the majority of the season.

Similar to the Queensland Grand Final a week earlier, we shot out of the blocks and scored two early tries, although the Panthers replied with three of their own, showing the firepower in their back line.

We went into half-time tied-up at 16-16. When we came out of the sheds the stadium was starting to fill, and Penrith got back on top taking a 28-16 advantage. Somehow we clawed our way back in to the game at 28-26 and I knew we had another try in us, as we often finished strongly.

I remember pushing up on the open side, screaming for the ball as the try line opened up for me. I couldn’t believe it. The ball was perfect and I simply dove over the line, which turned out to be the match winning try.

It is a moment I will cherish forever and really capped off a memorable past 12 months in Australia.

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It’s not often you get to play in front of massive crowds that size, and I am truly humbled to have played a small part in bringing success to a fantastic club whilst fulfilling my own ambitions.

Then it was time to watch the Battle of Britain – ‘Graham vs Burgess’. The whole build-up and spectacle of the grand final creates a unique buzz throughout the country.

The NRL certainly don’t hold back for their showcase event, pumping it at every opportunity, and the games don’t disappoint either.

It’s great to see the British game playing a huge part in Australia’s premier competition, and I am proud to say I was part of the 2014 NRL Grand Final day representing the club, country and people I love.

Tyrone McCarthy is a former Warrington Wolves forward who spent the 2014 season with the Northern Pride in the Queensland Cup. He is returning to the UK in 2015 to play for Hull Kingston Rovers. He is closely involved with Rugby League charity The Full Blood Project