I’ll be doing my best to ensure Norths Devils win at Bishop Park on Sunday afternoon.
The Devils take on last year’s grand finalists, Easts Tigers, in the opening week of the 2019 Intrust Super Cup finals series.
I joined the Devils ahead of the 2018 season but was almost a Tiger – on two occasions. The first came 10 years earlier when, after playing an earlier match in the day, I was asked to help out and came off the bench in a Legends of League exhibition match for Australia against a Rest of the World team.
The match was in Rockhampton and featured the likes of Gary Belcher, Brad Clyde, Robbie O’Davis – and Darren Smith.
It was great fun and an opportunity to play alongside some of the legends I grew up idolising.
Smith, who was Easts' coach at the time, approached me after the match and asked if I was interested in heading to the Tigers the following year.
I’m sure he hasn’t recruited anyone from a Legends of League match before.
I was interested but the timing wasn’t quite right, so I didn’t join the Tigers and instead stayed at the Central Queensland Comets.
A number of former Capras/Comets players have joined Easts over the years with Graeme White, Sime Busby, Jason Barsley, my younger brother Brent, Tim Glasby and Cameron Munster all leaving Central Queensland and donning the Tigers’ colours. Bill Cullen and Aaron Pene joined that list midway through 2019.
I had always kept in touch with Darren and contacted him again when I decided to move to Brisbane ahead of the 2018 season.
He’s a career pathways advisor at Clairvaux Mackillop College so I approached him about teaching opportunities at the college.
There weren’t any there but he mentioned he had passed on my details to Tigers head coach Scott Sipple and that he would be in contact in the coming weeks.
Scott messaged me a few days later as he was in Sydney at the time.
It was a tough decision – both clubs have long, rich histories, quality coaches and links to local high schools (Wavell State High School is close to Devils headquarters in Nundah).
I had known Devils coach Rohan Smith for a little while and, after hearing his vision for the club and the style of footy he planned to implement, I knew the Devils were the right club for me.
However, I have followed the Tigers’ progress over the past couple seasons from a distance.
They were struggling midway through last year before, on the back of current North Queensland Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater, they went on a run which saw them reach the 2018 Intrust Super Cup grand final.
Nearly 12 months on and they are featuring in the new-look eight-team finals series.
They no longer have Drinkwater but their team features NRL experienced centres Marion Seve and Solomone Kata, and young gun Billy Walters, who earned his NRL debut for Melbourne Storm in Round 16.
Seve has featured on 12 occasions for the Storm in 2019 while, Kata, who signed mid season from the New Zealand Warriors, has played 93 NRL matches and has represented Tonga and New Zealand.
They’re both powerful centres.
The pair will line up against Queensland Residents centre Connor Broadhurst and the dynamic Henry Penn, who has been among the Devils’ best in recent weeks.
When the Tigers played the Devils in Round 2 at Bishop Park earlier in the year it was their big men who caused the damage in the wet.
The Tigers finished 30-12 winners.
Albert Vete picked the ball up from dummy half and barged over for a try while Sam Lavea crashed over for a double.
The Tigers’ are a heavyweight forward pack, who, on the back of some crafty work from hooker Aaron Booth, will be hard to handle.
Lock Jack Svendsen is the tireless worker, who has taken his game to a new level since joining the Tigers from Northern Pride.
For the Devils, they’ll be aiming to combat the power punch of the Tigers with their skilful forward pack.
Oshae Tuiasau, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Pride Petterson-Robati in the forwards have the refined blend of force and finesse – all three are well over the 100kg mark, but have soft hands and can play before and after contact.
Petterson-Robati’s form in the early part of the year caught the eye of the Brisbane Broncos scouts and has seen him added to their full-time NRL squad.
On the edges, Broncos young gun Jordan Riki has grown in stature in recent weeks. The 19-year-old played his best match of the season against Mackay Cutters three weeks ago and is starting to play like a regular Intrust Super Cup player.
On the other edge is the PNG powerhouse Nixon Putt, whose combination with the South Sydney Rabbitohs-bound Troy Dargan has hit into top gear at the right end of the season.
The Tigers have lost eight of their last 10 matches with their only win coming over the CQ Capras in Round 16 and a draw against PNG Hunters a fortnight later.
Given their recent run, the fact that they are featuring beyond the end of the regular season is a warning sign to the other seven clubs still alive.
They are a quality side who haven’t been in great form in recent times, but did plenty early in the season, winning nine of their first 15 matches.
It is finals time, and most see it as a new competition.
In the Intrust Super Cup finals, both teams are undefeated.