By STEVE MASCORD
“IT was a pretty hard decision for me but I’ve made it now and I’ll have to run with it.”
Luke Douglas is sitting in a corporate box that doubles as a training nerve centre at Toyota Stadium, looking east as team-mates make their way from the dressingrooms, across the field, to the next part of their training day on a dreary afternoon.
It’s not an exaggeration to describe the 25-year-old, 110 kg prop as a little wistful. He isn’t just another big lump who is leaving one club for another (Gold Coast) for the cash.
Two years ago, Yamba-raised Luke’s mum and dad, Trish and Chris, showed up from the NSW north coast. They’d chucked everything in to support their son.
And, Luke explains, “Mum and dad were always going home.
“They’re still at the Shark House now. They look after about eight or nine young Sharks players coming through. They’re very grateful for their opportunity to become part of Cronulla and help out where they can.
“It was a chance for them to get closer to me and my brother Kane, who plays for the Waratahs. We live together with my youngest brother, who’s in uni’ at Wollongong.
“They help out by driving (young Sharks players) to training every morning and making them dinner. Mum gets up at five o’clock every morning to make them lunch for work and all that sort of stuff. It’s pretty non-stop. She’s up early, finishes late every night. They’ve loved it but they’re keen to get back home and have a rest. They’ve got a couple of little things they’ve got going back home so…”
So Luke is going too – leaving the club he joined straight out of school, leaving just at a time when things in the Shire are starting to turn.
At the time of writing, Cronulla had won a few on the trot and were eying the finals. “I’ve been a Sharks supporter all my life,” says Douglas, a likeable, up-front sort of fellow.
“I grew up loving the Sharks . I suppose I’ll always be a Sharks supporter.
“All I’ve known is the Sharks. It’s a bit scary but at the end of the day it was a decision to go back home, or be a bit closer. A lot of my mates are at the Goldy. I thought I may not get the opportunity again and I would regret it.
“I don’t want to have any regrets.”
The fact Douglas is leaving, along with fellow front rower Kade Snowden (Newcastle), is probably the thing Sharks fans are most acutely aware of right now when he comes up in conversation.
But there’s other things to talk about with this fellow who once got picked for Country, wasn’t able to play, and hasn’t had a rep look-in since.
Like his amazing recuperative powers. In round 12 against Melbourne, he suffered a knee injury that was supposed to rule him out for months.
He played the next week – keeping up his record of never having missed a game through injury.
Then there was his dismissal against Manly three years ago, which officials subsequently admitted had been a mistake. He wants the judicial system changed – although he’s not about to deliver a Meninga-sized spray on the subject.
“I was pretty filthy about it,” he recalls. “Chris Bailey did a bit of footwork on me and I have stuck my arm out. I thought I only brushed off the shoulder. It did look sort of bad. It slipped a little bit up.
“ I said ‘surely it’s not on report, sir’. The next thing, he sent me off. Then they came out and said I shouldn’t have been sent. It was pretty crucial at the time, too. We ended up losing the game in the last minute.
“ I thought …. I got a few (demerit) points for it. The referees came out and said it was the wrong decision, I shouldn’t have been sent off , so the minutes I was off … say I might have got 90 points for it … the minutes I spend on the sideline, which was 63 or something, I thought I should have been given those sixty-something points back. A hundred points equals a week on the sideline so I was thinking, by rights … I think I worked it out myself. They should at least look into it.”
According to Luke, our story last week about the coaches at Cronulla giving it to the players for laziness – and poor punctuality – five or six weeks ago was right on the money. It helped them embark on their current purple patch.
“Obviously I’m heading off to the Titans next year and a month or two back i was sitting back going ‘this is not the way I wanted to end my time with the Sharks’,” he muses
“ I suppose, mid-season the run started to come … and that Origin period, a few of us realised that we’ve only got Gal’ missing and we had the players there. It was just a matter of having the confidence. We got some ribbings off the coaching staff and everyone has started to show up on time.
“I said to Snow, when he made the decision and he told me … we both agreed that we love playing with each other and we’d try and make every game count. “
But some things – like news of his departure becoming public – have shown up a bit too early for Luke Douglas’ taste.
He recounts the day that life caught up with, and overtook, rhim. “I didn’t hear it on the radio, I knew it was on the computer. It was a Wednesday arvo…
“IT was deadset a flip of the coin. I’d been tossing on it for a month or so. I’d met with a couple of guys I respect, I spoke to Flanno, I spoke to my family. I would have done my pros and cons that many times.
“I said (to manager Steve Gillis) ‘I’m going to sign, I’ll come to your house, I’ll do it’. We sat down in the arvo, we got it done, and I was thinking ‘shit, how am I going to break this to everyone at the club? I’ve been here for so long’. We had the next day off so I planned on going in, sitting down with Flanno and explaining exactly why, going to see Gal and (football operations boss) Darren Mooney – everything.
“And the next thing, I was halfway home, peak hour traffic and I got a phone call from my manager. I pulled over to the side of the road and he said someone found out and they were going to release it that night.
“I hadn’t told anyone, I’m … trying to call people before it breaks. I was a bit upset how it all went down. I couldn’t get onto Flanno first of all so I’m ringing Moons. I rang Gal. Gal was alright, aside from (saying we were) building a good nucleus of a side. He reckons it always happens to the Sharks, through history. We build a good squad and it gets ripped apart..
He feels most regretful about the effort former team-mate Adam Dykes made to retain him. Dykes swung him back the Sharks’ way, but then he spoke to his parents. Luke doesn’t want Sharks fans blaming them, though.
And nor should they – the Douglases have guarded over the club’s next generation for precious little reward for two years. Like Luke, Chris and Trish have paid their dues.
“Not a big, big (factor) … but … Dad was missing it pretty bad,” Luke admits.
“He wanted to get back in old job. He hasn’t had a proper job for … he helps out here a fair bit. He’s pretty handy. He’s worked at the club, he’s put up heaps of stuff in the sheds.
“…and mum, they’re going to rebuild the house.
“Dad fills the (Sharks drinks container) up when he can, hobbling out giving it to the boys. He’s struggling a bit, he’s got a shit ankle. “
At first, as you can imagine, mum and dad being around all the time cramped the style of a 23-year-old.
“They’re always rocking up to stuff,” our man says with a grin. “(Mum) wants to get her nose into everything, be a part of it and tell me what I should be doing for my injuries when we’ve got physios and doctors here.
“I’m like, ‘mum, leave it to the experts’.
“They get invited to some of the functions and stuff and I’m like ‘go home, mum!’. “
You can imagine Trish Douglas – Cronulla’s Women In League award winner this year – just smiling at her cheeky son.
His words don’t mean he’s ungrateful. And at the end of this season, his actions will prove he’s quite the opposite.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK