NRL fire still burning for Leary
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Blake Leary is making no secret of the fact that he has his sights set firmly on a future in the NRL.
The former Manly utility has signed with the Townsville & Districts Mendi Blackhawks for 2017, with visions of playing big minutes for the side and proving himself worthy of getting back into a first grade jersey.
Coach Kristian Woolf said he saw Leary as a potential 80-minute man who would bring plenty of experience to the Blackhawks squad.
“He’s a marquee signing for us, he’s a guy who’s played around 25 NRL games which obviously brings a lot of experience,” Woolf said.
Queensland product Leary made his NRL debut for the North Queensland Cowboys in 2012 before signing with Manly on a two-year deal in 2015.
The 26-year-old also brings ‘twin title’ experience to the Blackhawks side, playing in the Intrust Super Cup and inaugural State Championship Grand Final winning sides in 2014 with the Northern Pride.
Leary said he was impressed with the calibre of the Blackhawks squad for 2017 and was looking forward to a big year, hopefully culminating in an Intrust Super Cup premiership win with his new club.
“If we all play to our potential we’ll be there in the end,” Leary said.
Coach Woolf said he previously knew Leary from his time with North Queensland and was confident that the former Queensland Resident representative would be a strong inclusion for the club.
“He’s a bloke who I was familiar with from his time here at the Cowboys and a bloke that I thought would fit in with us really well and offer us a lot on the field, but also offer us a lot off the field as well,” Woolf said.
Leary said he saw the Blackhawks to be his best option as a platform to getting back to a first grade position, declining offers to join overseas clubs next season.
“I sort of just found my feet in the first year (at Manly) and was really confident coming into the second year,” Leary said.
“It didn’t go the way I wanted, but I’m fitter and stronger than I was the last couple of years so I know my best footy is still ahead of me.
“The fire to play NRL is still burning so that’s my goal and I think a good year up here and that’s where I’ll be heading hopefully.”
Woolf said he was confident that the Blackhawks could offer a strong pathway for Leary to achieve his first grade goal.
“He’s made it really clear he wants to put his name up there to be considered for NRL again, that’s what I think we can offer him,” Woolf said.
“That’s what we’ve proven to offer other guys, with five guys going on to NRL clubs this year, and I’ve got no doubt we can help Blake do the same.”
With the announcement of Brendan Santi joining the Sydney Roosters this week, the Blackhawks have become the unofficial Intrust Super Cup hub for players looking to graduate to the NRL.
“It’s good that players view us as a club they can do that at and certainly something we want to continue to be,” Woolf said.
Jahrome Hughes, Mosese Pangai, Rhyse Martin and Corey Jensen featured alongside Santi on the NRL signings list for 2017.
“If you go through all those five and in particular Brendan Santi they were all on the NRL scrap heap a little bit and made the decision to come up here for some opportunity and came up and played their best footy,” Woolf said.
Woolf said he was particularly proud to see Santi, who came to the Blackhawks midway through 2016 out of shape and underdone, achieve the step up to the NRL.
“I know that was what he wanted and what he wanted to work hard towards and I’m sure he’ll make a go of it now.”
Woolf said he was confident that coming from the Blackhawks will have prepared Santi, along with the four other signings, for the NRL system.