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'It was the best decision I’ve ever made': Rafter happy at home with the Tigers

Tom Rafter never thought he’d play Hostplus Cup for any other club outside of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

But today, the talented second rower is now a Cup premiership winner with the Brisbane Tigers, on his way to NRL grand final day to play in the State Championship in Sydney, and has an NRL pre-season coming up with the Melbourne Storm following his strongest season yet.

It was hard for Rafter to leave the Sunshine Coast - where he kicked off his Cup career in 2019 – but after 10 months with the Tigers, the 26-year-old is certainly not looking back.

Rafter in action for the Tigers. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Rafter in action for the Tigers. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

“It was a decision I never thought I’d make, leaving my previous club,” Rafter said.

“It turns out it was the best decision I’ve ever made in terms of my career.

“I came for the opportunity. When I had the phone call from (Tigers coach Matt Church), even then I discussed with a few people, you know, ‘is it the right decision?’.

“I didn’t think playing even one game for another club would be something I would do. But it ended up being a decision I needed to make if I wanted to progress with my career.

“To win the grand final… it’s something that with such a new group at the Tigers, I thought it would be a huge challenge for us to even play on grand final day.

“It shows that once a group can click together, the opportunities are endless. It’s something we tried to focus on from January and February but then throughout the year it came and went, that feeling of joining as a group.

“As soon as we hit that late July period though, I knew no team could beat us.

“It’s a little bit surreal. We created history, which took a while to sink in. But once it sort of stuck in, it felt real. Now we also go to Sydney and play another grand final before the NRL grand final.

“You never think you’re going to get to that stage, let alone winning a Hostplus (Cup) grand final.

“After all this, I get the opportunity to go to Melbourne as well. That’s the pathways program they offer and that in itself, individually, is a huge reward.”

As well as enjoying the team’s success - and with his Melbourne pre-season to look forward to - Rafter was also last week named the Tigers’ most improved for season 2023.

The Bribie Island Warrigals junior said his development this year had a lot to do with the faith shown in him by the club’s coaching staff, including head coach Church.

“It’s the trust from the coaching staff,” he said.

“There were times there that I was playing limited minutes to now playing every game and every minute. It’s something that they’ve put trust into me to do.

“And it also didn’t matter if it was second row, lock or centre. Whatever position, Churchie trusted me to do the job.

“Churchie has a very unique coaching philosophy and I think he learnt a lot from when he was with PNG and he had to understand their culture and what gets them to play as a team.

“Even the social factor off the field – with so many boys coming from such different backgrounds to here - it was important that the leadership group got us into different things outside of rugby league.

“Whatever happens, you want to know you’re going to be mates and that’s who you play for and that reflected so much towards the back end of the year.

“There were times people would talk about us and would watch our games and could see everyone wanted to defend for each other.”

Rafter celebrating after the grand final victory. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
Rafter celebrating after the grand final victory. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

Rafter – who says his biggest supports in life are his parents and his childhood friends – is hoping that unity in defence will be strong once again come Sunday.

The Tigers will meet the NSW Cup premiers – South Sydney Rabbitohs – at Accor Stadium from 12.20pm AEST.

Both teams will be meeting an element of the unknown, having never played against each other.

But for Rafter, it’s simple. The Tigers have built their season off the back of their defence and he knows they have to maintain that this weekend.

“It’s another grand final and defence wins grand finals,” he said.

“If we can keep the opposition to zero, we can’t lose. It’s something we have to talk about. They’re going to have some strike with (fullback) Blake Taaffe. But Burleigh had (Keano) Kini and we did an okay job on him.

“We can do as much review as we can but it’s all going to be about whoever rocks up on the day wanting to win that State Championship.

“As a collective, if we were talking about the Tigers being so successful this year, to top it off winning that State Championship and being the best team out of the two comps, it would definitely reflect on the year we had.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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