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Mackay Cutters: Cup gains and losses for 2023

When Garrett Smith heard Michael Comerford was going to be head coach of the Mackay Cutters in 2023, he knew he had to get back home.

The 22-year-old forward has spent the past three seasons in different NRL systems – first North Queensland Cowboys then Newcastle Knights and then New Zealand Warriors, where he played with the club’s affiliate, the Redcliffe Dolphins.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the talented Mackay product, with COVID-19 greatly disrupting his seasons at both the Cowboys and the Knights.

He said at times, the inconsistency left him “struggling to find his feet”.

But this season, under the tutelage of his former under 20s coach Comerford, Smith is ready to make his mark.

“I was obviously at Redcliffe, I had a year there and a bit of success with the team,” Smith said of 2022.

“Then it was announced that Michael Comerford was named head coach at the Mackay Cutters. From that moment I knew I wanted to come home and play for the Cutters.

“I’ve had Commo as a coach in under 20s and I can’t give him big enough wraps. He was a player in his time and he knows what it’s like to play at Cup level.

“He communicates that very well as a coach and really gets the most out of his players.

“We’ve had a pretty big pre-season and the change he’s made in that short period of time, it really gives me high hopes for the season. I’m excited to see what he can do.”

The excitement that Smith feels about returning to the Cutters under Comerford is mirrored, with the new head coach last month praising Smith’s experience, intensity at training, and his passion for the club.

Smith first started with the Cowboys in 2020 after being promoted to a development contract with the NRL club. But he played just one trial match before his season was called off due to Covid-19.

“It’s been a lot of stop-start footy,” Smith said of his career in NRL systems.

“I think I played one game that year (in 2020). I didn’t get a whole lot under my belt.

“From there I moved to Newcastle and started off a pretty good season with the NSW Cup team. We ended up getting 11 games into the season and then COVID hit again and it got called off.

“I struggled to find my feet due to lack of footy I played. I was lucky enough to get a stint with the Warriors last year. I went to the Warriors and started training there and dropped back to the Dolphins.

“What’s happened these past few years, that’s the nature of the game. You never know what could happen.

“One day you can be on the top of the world and next day you’ve been dropped back and struggling to find your feet in whatever competition it is.

“It is a rollercoaster of emotions and it does get tough at times but you have to keep moving forward.”

Cutters hell day: 'Making things unpredictable'

Since his return to the club, Smith said it doesn’t feel like much has changed.

While Comerford is now head coach and there’s been a few new signings – including Logen Dillon and Joshua Smith – Smith said the club was the same. It feels like home.

“I’m from Mackay and the community love their footy, love their Cutters, and that hasn’t changed,” he said.

“At the club, there hasn’t been so much change with the playing group, but more with the attitude and how you carry yourself. It’s really stepped up.

“We’ve had a few tougher years and we’ve really done a lot to turn ourselves around. People like (head of football) Kim Williams are really creating a culture that’s a winning one.

“Adam Cook and Kyle Schneider, they had a crack with the Cowboys during pre-season and they’ve come back and really added a lot to the squad. The younger boys, I remember seeing them in the 18s and stuff and now they’re in Cup with me.

“It’s good to see how they’ve progressed and the players they’ve become. They’re really stepping up and running with it.”

Overall, Smith has a lot of belief in where the Cutters can go this year and hopes that they can push themselves further than they’ve gone in the past two seasons.

For himself, he wants to get back to an NRL system one day. But for now he wants to enjoy being back home and being in the Hostplus Cup.

“I want to come back to Mackay and really make my mark on the competition, not only as a player but a team,” he said.

“We have everything in place for a successful year. We can play our best footy under Commo. I really want to make my mark and hopefully be talking about finals.”

Mackay Cutters 2023 gains and losses


Kobe Bone (North Tamworth Bears), Logen Dillon (Wests Tigers), Bayley Gill (Featherstone Rovers), Walter Lauenstein (Sunshine Coast Falcons), John Schwalger (Northern Thunder), Garrett Smith (New Zealand Warriors), Joshua Smith (Canberra Raiders), Robson Stevens (Huddersfield Giants), Dario Takitaki (West Brisbane), Jaylan To’o (Runaway Bay)


Brenton Baira (Redcliffe Dolphins), Jack Brock (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Hayden Brownsey (local league), Ewan Coutts (relocated), Jordan Hill (Wests Tigers), Luke Ingram (Wagga), Tom Irelandes (local league), Jayden Morgan (Jamberoo), Tom Sly (relocated)

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