** Click here for a report of the match in which Antony Jerram made his Super League debut **
BRITISH players with Australian Rugby League clubs aren’t as thick on the ground now as during the 1970s and 1980s, when Great Britain internationals like Mal Reilly, Mike Stephenson, Roger Millward, Garry Schofield and Ellery Hanley all had great success with various Sydney clubs.
However, the 2009 rugby league season sees a small-scale repetition of that trend, with Gareth Ellis playing for Wests-Tigers and Jordan Tansey at the Sydney Roosters – as well as Warrington’s own Antony Jerram with the Newtown Jets.
The Jets are the oldest rugby league club in Australia and played in the NSW Rugby League first grade competition from 1908 to 1983.
They now play in the second-tier NSW Cup competition and act as the reserve grade or ‘A’ team to the Sydney Roosters in the NRL.
Antony (or Tony), who shot into the headlines with an unexpected Super League debut off the bench against Leeds in 2007, made contact with the Newtown Jets last September and sent over DVDs of himself in action with the Warrington Wolves youth squad. Newtown’s head coach Greg Matterson (an older brother of Castleford coach Terry Matterson) liked what he saw and invited Tony out for trials with the Jets. Tony arrived in early January on the evening of one of Sydney’s hottest days in many years – and attended training the next day at Newtown’s dry and dusty home ground Henson Park when the temperature reached 38 degrees Celsius!
He has since seen the volatility of the Australian summer at its most extreme with bushfires in southern Australia sweeping across an area the size of the entire North of England, killing more than 200 people and destroying a swathe of towns and villages.
As Matterson says: “Tony did it tough to start with in coping with the Australian summer but he has trained very hard and has fitted into his new club extremely well.
"He showed his best form in the later trials and has now earned a start with our NSW Cup team against the Penrith Panthers partnership club Windsor this Saturday.”
The Jets made the NSW Cup Grand Final last year with this match being played as a curtain-raiser to the NRL Grand Final at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, in front of a live television audience of more than 400,000 viewers.
However, the Newtown club faced a large off-season exodus and now has a very much rebuilt playing squad. Jerram is showing the way to a lot of other British rugby league youngsters who might aspire to playing in Sydney – train hard and adapt quickly to the different nuances and standards by which the rugby league game is played in Australia and the opportunities will assuredly present themselves.
Jerram is now fully acclimatised and is regarded as one of the Jets' best trainers on the pitch and in the gymnasium – he’s even sporting a tan that makes him look as if he’s been sunbaking on the Costa del Sol for about six months!
Tony’s selection in the Newtown Jets NSW Cup team puts him within reach of an even greater prize – promotion into the Sydney Roosters NRL team and the chance to play professional Rugby League at the most demanding level in the game anywhere in the world.
It’s a long way from wintry Warrington to the blazing heat of inner-western Sydney’s Henson Park but Jerram deserves great credit for his determination and professional attitude.
His new teammates are certainly a different bunch to those he knew back in Cheshire – the Newtown Jets playing roster of 2009 has a decidedly multicultural, League of Nations look to it, with lads from New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Papua-New Guinea and Lebanon all on the books, along with a scattering of Aboriginal and Anglo-Celtic Aussies. This weekend a man from Warrington named Tony Jerram adds to that list of diversity.
* Story contributed by Glen Dwyer, media officer, Newtown Jets RLFC.