Move over Honey Badger, the Intrust Super Cup has uncovered rugby league’s answer – The Buffalo Hunter.
Central Queensland Capras hooker Billy Gilbert is quickly emerging as a personality player who has found his perfect environment.
“I dunno why, but they bloody love me up here for some reason,” says 21-year-old Gilbert, originally from rural New South Wales.
“I had an interview on TV the other month and I wore thongs and shorts and, err I dunno, I managed to get my dog on there too.
“They asked me if I was keen for it and my first question was: ‘Can I bring my dog?’.”
Gilbert turned heads in Round 3 with an impressive line of 47 tackles, 149 metres run, six tackle breaks, one try, one line break, two offloads, a try assist and a line break assist.
The week before he made 44 tackles in just 51 minutes on the field.
At 85kg, he credits his astonishing work-rate and tenacity on an unusual offseason schedule.
“At the end of last footy season I went to the Northern Territory, shooting feral buffalo and horses for use in crocodile farms,” he says.
“You’d do seven animals in the morning, have lunch, then do another seven in the arvo.
“You shoot them, drag them up, spin them on their side, skin them, bone them, roll it over and do the other side.
“I tell ya, the humidity was off the Richter scale. She was a decent workout.”
If you’re tempted to think Gilbert is having a laugh – creating a parody of the Aussie bushman – his story checks out.
More than that, there’s also a steely underside to his regime, which also saw him deployed 1300km from the Northern Territory town of Katherine to cull 40 wild camels.
“I told me old man that I wanted to work real hard – just kill myself with work – and leave no stone unturned,” says Gilbert.
“I’m in Rockhampton, living 1800km from home, I’ve got no family here, nothing in general, nothing to lose.
“I might as well give this everything I’ve got.
“Going to the desert, the middle of nowhere, and hunting animals while I knew everyone else was on offseason was something I wanted to do from a mental aspect.”
Gilbert’s family is from Darlington Point, a name which conjures up images of a picturesque rocky outcrop close to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Darlington Point is an inland town found south of Griffith, between Carathool, Euroley and Coleambally – six hours west of Sydney.
It’s a region that has been hit hard by the drought and Gilbert plays each game with the town’s name written on his wrist.
His toughness is unquestionable and he has even taken to doing road runs at 1pm in the hottest part of the Rockhampton heat to test himself.
Capras coach Kim Williams says Gilbert is one of the most popular players at the club, having earnt his stripes after being cut by Cronulla Under 20s and playing out a season at Yeppoon under former NRL cult figure Scott Minto.
“Billy’s a pretty good story, that’s for sure,” laughs Williams.
“He’s a character from the past; one of the sort of blokes the game probably misses a bit these days.
“You could say he’s a bit unique, but we don’t ever want him to change.
“He’s got a great attitude, is a sponge for information and is highly motivated to be the best he can.
“That absolute enthusiasm and drive to succeed is a fantastic strength, but we also have to temper it, because he sets pretty high standards of himself and he needs reminding just to live in the moment sometimes.”
Williams said Gilbert had both hands on the starting hooker role after a period of jostling for the rake spot left vacant when Krys Freeman departed for Townsville.
His acceleration out of dummy-half and kicking ability has always been a strength, but now his playmaking has matured to offer a more complete package.
As well as offering the type of farm strength you’d expect to garner from 55 days hunting in the outback, his output in the gym has also been impressive.
“He has that ability to shrug off a defender or get away an offload that you might not expect from someone of his build,” says Williams.
“He’s also very tough defensively. Last year he got half-a-dozen games throughout the year in Intrust Super Cup and probably missed more tackles than he wanted, but that was purely physical and not through lack of desire.
“This year he has the added strength and physical presence to counter that.”
Gilbert admits that his first shot in the semi-professional ranks with Cronulla was not an opportunity he fully enjoyed.
In particular, the pace of living in Sydney didn’t suit his vibe.
“The city almost killed me…it wasn’t my cup of tea,” he says.
“After that finished up I thought ‘I’m just gonna go pig hunting’ and now every chance I get that’s where I am – pig hunting.
“Saying that, I’ve grown a lot these past few years and I won’t let a second chance slip by if it ever comes along.
“Full credit to Scotty Minto and Kim Williams for everything they’ve done for me.
“Kim’s my lord and saviour and, dead-set, if I hear people badmouth him on social media or in the streets, I’ll get right up ‘em. If you let it slide, it means you accept it.”
With that type of loyalty coursing through his veins, it’s no wonder Gilbert is seen as a valued member to the club, both on and off the field.
“He loves the Central Queensland environment and what it has to offer…like the pig hunting,” says Williams.
“You could say he has the same outlook on life as most folks from this region.
“We call him ‘The Man of The People’ because you can’t help but warm to him.”