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'The heart and soul': Bennett Leslie reaches 100 Cup games

Brisbane Tigers coach Matt Church did not have to think very hard when asked to describe what forward Bennett Leslie means to his club.

“When you think of the heart and soul of an organisation, I think of Bennett,” Church said.

And as Leslie this weekend prepares to celebrate his 100th Cup appearance – 29 games with the Mackay Cutters and the rest with the Tigers – it’s not hard to see why he is thought of in such high esteem.

A carpenter by trade, Leslie is famous around Tigers HQ for his dedication to both work and his footy.

There have been many times where he not only comes straight from the job site – where he’s been working in the sun all day – to training, but also on game days.

And even on grand final day last year.

For the 33-year-old, who hails from New South Wales, that dedication comes from a determination to never give up.

Leslie in action in the 2023 Hostplus Cup grand final. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Leslie in action in the 2023 Hostplus Cup grand final. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

“I want to keep going until I can’t,” Leslie said ahead of this Sunday’s milestone.

“Growing up back home, I had a lot of mates and older boys and my dad’s mates and they all played footy at good levels but, as they would say, they gave up too early.

“They said they should have played a few more years, pushed a bit harder, stayed in the game.

“I don’t want to be one of those guys when I’m retired that I have thoughts of, ‘I wish I could have, should have, done this or that'.

“If I can give everything for my team and my brothers, then that’s what I want to do. I want to give my all and give my best.

“Working before training and games, that also puts me in a good mindset. If I’m at work, I have that attitude of, ‘let’s get the job done'.

“On days when I’m not working, I feel a little out of place. At the State Championship last year (in Sydney), I was actually walking around Homebush on the day of the game looking for a job site to do some work but no luck.”

If there is one story especially that epitomises Leslie’s commitment to rugby league, it is what he endured last year to play in the Hostplus Cup grand final and go to Sydney with the Tigers for the State Championship.

Winning the premiership is one of two career highlights for Leslie and he knew he was never going to miss the opportunity to take to the field.

Not even when he broke his hand in the preliminary final against the Central Queensland Capras.

Bennett Leslie with Kane Bradley ahead of the 2023 NRL State Championship. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Bennett Leslie with Kane Bradley ahead of the 2023 NRL State Championship. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

“It happened shortly after the first kick off of the second half... my hand just got in an awkward position... I felt it go and it felt like I was playing with a pool noodle on my thumb,” he said.

“I kept hoping it was just dislocated but it was wishful thinking. I knew it was broken. When the adrenaline kicked in, I could keep going.

“It wasn’t until a day or two after the game, I knew I had to get an x-ray.

“Churchie gave me up until captain's run to make my mind up and he reckoned if I could play with it and back myself, he’d back me.

“They put me through a gruelling training session to see how I pulled up. I still worked all the way through the week as well.

“I thought I might as well get used to it and be prepared for what the pain is going to be like. I told Churchie I was going to be good. But at the end of the day it was on him and he chose to put me in.

“Playing in the game, it felt surreal. I always wanted to be there. Finally getting to be there and having part of my family come up from NSW, it was outstanding.

“I can’t even express the emotion before the game and in the game. I just wanted to do my absolute best for my mates, my brothers and the team.

“When we won, I was pencilled in to get an operation the following Wednesday. But with the State Championship coming up, I told Churchie that’s not happening.

“I was lucky enough to get picked in that side too and he gave me the confidence to believe in myself and so did my family and all the boys around me.

“They all knew about it and gave me the confidence to back myself as well.”

And Church says this story also shows exactly why Leslie is the “heart and soul” of the Tigers.

“What he did in the grand final and State Championship, not many players could that,” Church said.

“Especially working on grand final day, that's just who he is.

“I knew he wanted to play and I had one rule with that and that's if he wasn't going to let anyone down, he wouldn’t play. But no one could say that of Bennett.”

Outside of the grand final victory, Leslie knows what his other Cup career highlight is without hesitation.

It was having his young son, who lives in Cairns, witness him in action and be around the team and the football environment.

Bennett Leslie with his son. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Bennett Leslie with his son. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL

“Whenever I have a game that my son is at and him being able to watch me play... being able to take him to the State Championship and having him with me and being able to be present and live the dream and go through the tunnels with him,” Leslie said.

“All the boys love him and love having him there. For him to experience that as a child, it’s unreal. I love that he’s loves the Tigers as well and the club.

“It’s tough not having him around me and being with him every day. But having him for the games and at training, it’s like he’s never left.

“He’s got all his Tigers kit and has jerseys. He does weight sessions with us, mostly mucks around doing band stuff.

“Even after trainings, he wants to jump in the ice baths and get among it with all the boys.”

Leslie will reach his 100th Cup game milestone on Sunday when the Tigers play host to the Ipswich Jets at Totally Workwear Stadium.

The Tigers are still chasing their first win of the season so his achievement will only add to the occasion and give his teammates that extra bit of motivation.

Moving forward, Leslie’s goals are pretty simple.

He doesn’t know where football will take him or how much longer he will play. But he’s excited to see it all unfold either way.

“Wherever it’s going to take me, football is a different creature in itself,” Leslie said.

“Some people are lucky enough to play 300 games, some are lucky to play one. I will just enjoy the ride along the way.

“I’m just happy doing what I’m doing, playing where I’m playing and enjoying it one game or session at a time.

“There’s a good culture here at the Tigers and we look forward to coming to training and seeing everyone.”

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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