Like many other fans and players in rugby league, Ben Condon has often found comfort in the phrase ‘there’s always next week’ when coming off a loss. However, the young North Queensland Cowboys forward is being made to wait a bit longer than expected for a chance to change his fortunes.
While Condon had spent the past two seasons in Townsville with the Townsville Blackhawks, in Round 1 of this year, he made his Intrust Super Cup debut with the Northern Pride in a close match loss against Tweed Seagulls; and when the time comes for “next week” and his next game comes, he’ll be more than ready to go.
Intrust Super Cup Round 1 highlights: Tweed v Pride
“They (the Cowboys) put you wherever (they think you suit best); I didn’t really have a preference where I played this year and when I went up to Cairns for the trial games, all the coaching staff and all the players were really good and got around me, so it just made it heaps easier and they were really professional and they had the same goals in mind too,” Condon said.
“I made my Intrust Super Cup debut in Round 1 against Tweed, but I dropped the ball over the line; Jake Clifford put a grubber in, and I have picked it up and I just had to put it down, but I clean dropped it.
“I am still filthy about that... have just been dwelling on it for months.”
While Condon can see the funny side in situations like this, there is no denying the circumstances this year has been tough for someone who grew up as a kid who loves footy, in a town that loves footy.
Hailing from Roma, the Wallumbilla-Surat Red Bulls junior said it was no surprise the town was one of the first in the state to get back onto the playing field.
“I was born and raised in Roma and that’s where I played all my junior footy and I really enjoyed it there,” Condon said.
“It was a really close knit community and all the fellas I played with, I played in the same team from under 5 to under 12 and we were all really close and I enjoyed my footy there; and obviously I was a kid, but I just had a blast just playing there.
“Even though when we went away to the big carnivals in Brisbane, we weren’t as successful, but it was good because everyone knew each other and everyone got along and it was just fun.
“I reckon (rugby league’s) really important to the community, everyone loves it and gets around it, it’s something to do on the weekend and so it doesn’t surprise me and I think it shows how much it means to Roma.”
Condon, who moved to Rockhampton when he started high school, got picked to be part of the Rockhampton Academy for the Cowboys and developed through the ranks there.
“Clint (Zammit, then North Queensland Cowboys recruitment manager) watched one of my Cyril Connell games for the (Central Queensland) Capras and picked me up from there,” Condon said.
“I was with the Blackhawks' Hastings Deering Colts team for the last two years and we had pretty successful seasons, but really just struggled to finish at the end of the year.
“I enjoyed my time there, so it was a bit weird playing against them in the trial match with Cairns this year.”
Condon, who is also studying primary school education, is one of the young players living the bubble life with an NRL squad and has had to adapt to the new way of life.
“It’s been very different, obviously everyone has had to isolate, it’s a bit secluded, not as exciting as it usually is, not being able to go out to the shops or out for lunch and stuff,” Condon said.
“Otherwise, I haven’t found it too difficult personally, just because I have found it being more enjoyable being back at training, rather than being back at home when we were on that COVID break, it was a bit bad.
“Obviously, it’s been a bit challenging, but I reckon it’s been pretty well run and (we are) looked after, which makes it easier.
“But at the moment it’s not too good for the social side of life, at home or at training, so you can’t even go and get groceries, you have to get an online order or housemates to go get it.
“I am lucky though, before it all started, I moved in with a housemate who is not in the NRL squad, so he can go and do all my groceries and fill up my car and stuff, so that’s been handy to have and stuff, so that’s been handy to have that he can be my to-do person. Big Michael Bell.”
Like other NRL clubs, the Cowboys also were able to organise for a scrimmage match for their fringe players; something Condon found to be highly beneficial and a good break from usual training.
“We got to play against the Knights, it was good fun,” Condon said.
“It was some of us boys that don’t get picked every week, it was a while ago, but it was good to play, we got to have a nines hit-out against the Knights, and it wasn’t bad at all.
“I think we won that actually, hopefully we get a few more before the end of the year, but we just have to see how it all goes and how it all pans out.
“I have struggled with the fact not knowing if you can play football every week, that’s what I love to do, so obviously after the off-season and stuff, you are really excited to get back into the season again, and just after Round 1 when it all got canned.
“That scrimmage was good, it freshened up the boys’ mood and everyone was pumped that we could have a hit out.”
Daejarn Asi - Star of the future
One of the other players to take part was Daejarn Asi, and Condon said seeing the rise of his former Colts team mate was a huge positive for the squad and other players.
“Seeing Daejarn debut, obviously it helps you motivate yourself because you have played footy with them and you are around a similar age and they had played just as much footy as you this year and they have still been able to get picked, so it’s been reassuring to see,” Condon said.
“So (you know) there is a purpose to what you have been doing, and it’s been refreshing to see that if you keep going and if you keep putting your best foot forward, you might be a chance of getting an NRL debut.
“People can be telling you it’s just around the corner, but seeing it helps and I suppose that’s the reason we go to training each day is to have a crack.”