THE Orange Hawks and a fellow called James Moala. That’s who we have to thank for Jesse Bromwich.
Jesse is the 193cm 110kg behemoth we see wreaking havoc every weekend for the Melbourne Storm, a man who will have played a big role if New Zealand is lifting the World Cup again at Old Trafford on November 30.
But how much do you know about him? Um, he’s a Kiwi. He was probably discovered at some schools carnival, right? He has a brother called Kenny who plays off the bench sometimes. He scores the odd long-range try.
For an elite forward at a front running club, Bromwich is weirdly anonymous off the field. Maybe you’ve never even heard him talk. As one of those pests who runs on the field at fulltime to interview players, I know that the bloke in my earphones is normally saying words like “Cronk”, “Slater” and “Smith” when the siren sounds.
Leaning up against a rally car painted with Storm livery at South Bank during a club promotion one sunny day, 24-year-old Jesse makes it apparent pretty quickly that he’s got a story to tell. It tumbles out, all at once.
After chatting politely to a Scotsman who is wearing a Storm polo but who says he’s “not a rugby man, I’m a football fan”, 24-year-old Jesse tells A-List “I went to Orange with one of my mates and then went home for a holiday and my mate told me he wasn’t going back. I didn’t want to go back on my own so I stayed in New Zealand.
“At that time, mum and dad lived in Melbourne. They told me to move over. My brother was in the SG Ball and the 20s then, in Melbourne, and he just told his coach about me, that I was playing footy. The coach told me to come down to training and it started off from there.”
HANG ON! Your interviewer’s head is spinning. No doubt yours’ is too. So, you moved from Manurewa in Auckland, where you were a junior player of some note, to ORANGE in outback NSW? Why?
“I went because we had work and they were going to pay us to play footy,” he explains (‘We’ was Bromwich and mate Moala, a handy lock in his day).
“It was better than what I was doing back in New Zealand (working in an aluminium factory).”
OK, got that. And why, exactly, were your parents in Melbourne, of all places? ““They just moved to be closer to me … we’ve got family here “
OK, so we’re talking five years ago. Through contacts, Jesse/James rode into the wild west of NSW in search of footy and a job. Jesse’s dad, Mike, and mother, Alix wanted to go with him but they chose Melbourne – out near Dandenong, actually – because they had family there.
Now, slowly, what happened next?
“We went home for a holiday on one of the bye weeks and he (Moala) just said ‘oh, I’m not going back’. So I wasn’t going back on my own. I was about 17, 18.”
Only problem was, Jesse’s entire family had upped and changed countries for him, hadn’t they? And now he was back in enzed, on his own. So they told him to join them.
Sure, he had nothing waiting for him in Melbourne but little brother Kenneath (unusual spelling, sounds like an Irish town) was making headway with the local NRL team the Melbourne Storm.
“Ken just said he had a brother at home who used to go alright at footy, I guess,” Jesse says with a smile. “The coach just said ‘oh yeah, bring him along to training and we’ll have a look’.
“That was in 2008.”
Big Jesse worked his way up through the ranks, was 18th man for an away game against the Warriors in 2009, made his debut against Harlequins before the 2010 World Club Challenge, backed up in the WCC the following week and was in the NRL side from round one.
He’s a man who has had a lot of choices to make at a young age, but in the end let the choices make him. For instance, he didn’t really pick league over union. It chose him.
“Where I’m from, it’s all rugby league,” he says. “I used to play union at school but it didn’t really interest me., eh? It was always rugby league. My old man loved it. Kenny loved it and all my mates loved it too so it’s all we used to do.”
As for choosing a position to play … have you seen the size of him? “Where I’m from, everyone’s big so …hahah. I was always a forward.”
His team-mates say being picked for New Zealand last season was the making of him. “At the time of my first Test, I didn’t really think about it. My name got read out and Craig (Bellamy) and all them told me and I couldn’t believe it.”
But playing Test football is one area where Jesse Bromwich is not content to go with the flow. Having played junior football in Orange, he could have gone the way of James Tamou.
He has crossed the Tasman more times than Qantas but when I ask him if he can understand the decisions of some of his compatriots to represent Australia, he says: “No, I can’t understand that. It’s always been easy for me.
“I haven’t even thought about it. I know where I’m from. I guess all those other boys, they must love living here or something like that. I love living here too but I’m always from New Zealand.”
Before we continue, we should reflect on how remarkable it is that in these days of scouting toddlers, of scholarships and pathways, it is still possible to walk in off the street and become and NRL star, on the recommendation of your brother.
Gareth Widdop did something similar in Melbourne; showed up from another country and got a start in the world’s toughest competition.
“It’s tough but I loved it because I’d never been with an NRL team or anything like that,” he says of his first weeks at the Storm.
“I was just keen to train, I was keen to play. Seeing guys like Greg Inglis and Billy Slater and Cameron Smith and them .. I remember seeing them for the first time and just buzzing out. I couldn’t believe it at the time.
“The main thing I’ve had to work on down here is my defence. Where I’m from, it’s all about ‘attack, attack’ so you learn how to do attack as a kid. The defensive part of the game has been very tough. Fitness, too, is definitely something you need playing in the NRL and playing in the middle of the field. “
That attacking instinct from Manurewa Marlins still comes in handy sometimes. He broke open the World Club Challenge with a long-range try just after halftime and has scored a couple of others in the NRL.
“The first thing I do when I get in the clear is I look for Bill or someone like that,” he laughs. “It doesn’t happen to me often. Sometimes I get over the line and I’m not really sure what happened. But if it happened, it’s lucky.”
If you reference Jesse’s tale by the movie Sliding Doors, there’s been a lot of them. More than the intro to Get Smart, to get him to this point where he and partner Les have a two-year-old son called Ely and are living happily in the Victorian capital.
If he hadn’t gone to Orange, his parents wouldn’t have come to Melbourne. If James Moala hadn’t got cold feet? “It was probably a good thing because then I had to move in with mum and dad in Melbourne,” he muses.
“I used to work with my dad. He’s a supervisor of an aluminium company so I’d probably be working in there still.
“I don’t know, I guess things all happen for a reason. “
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK