This week www.melbournerebels.com.au caught up with Assistant Coach and ex-Wallaby, Nathan Grey, on how Rugby Union became his sport of choice in school, how he got into playing Super Rugby, moving to Japan and what influenced him into coaching Rugby Union.
Nathan, what got you first playing Rugby Union? What or who influenced you into playing Rugby Union?
Having lived in Papua New Guinea and Fiji for 3years, I didn’t know anything about Rugby Union when I started at The Southport School in 1988. After school all my mates would go down to the ovals for training and I asked if I could join them. Sitting in my age group, the coaches went around asking everyone their 2 favourite positions they wanted to play. I had no idea what to say so just listened to all the other guys and they were saying, “Lock, 2nd Row, Prop, Hooker, Halfback...” and I had no idea what those words meant so I was a little confused at what to say. Most of my mates said, “Fly-half and Centre” so I said the same, that’s how it all started.
Has it always been Rugby Union or have you played other sports during your junior days?
I played Soccer until I was 12; I hadn’t picked up a Rugby Union ball until then. I even dabbled in a little hockey, basketball, rowing, and athletics as a young pup, I wasn’t very good at any, but enjoyed the contest.
I played squash against my older brother and was his whipping boy for about 7 years. I still remember my first victory in a dodgy court in Indooroopilly in Brisbane, it was a long time coming but I got him!
Which Rugby Union team did you first play for in Super Rugby?
March 1998 NSW Waratahs v ACT Brumbies at the Sydney Football Stadium, they were the defending champs and we were a side full of young blokes keen for an opportunity. The Waratahs won that match 24-12, I remember sitting in the sheds after the game thinking how lucky I was to have the opportunity to play this great game with 14 of my mates and absolutely stick it to the opposition. I wanted more, and was determined not to give another bloke the opportunity to wear my jersey and take that feeling away from me.
When did you move to the Waratahs and how long were you there?
I was in the QLD Reds extended training squad for a number of years after leaving school. I was lucky enough to receive 2 caps for Queensland in 1997 when the touring France National Side team played Queensland at Ballymore.
The Wallabies at the time was full of Queensland players and as none of them were available at the time, I got my opportunity and did my best.
I was asked to go on the NSW development tour to the UK at the end of 1997 and was offered a full contract for the 1998 season and stayed there for a further 7 years.
You then moved to Fukuoka, Japan to play for the Kyushu Electric Power Company. What was playing in Japan like compared to Australia/Super Rugby?
Very, very different. The side I went to were a 2nd division, semi-professional team where all the players worked 5 days a week 9-5 and the foreign players were working 3 days a week and training had to fit around that. The players had a great attitude towards their rugby and were extremely keen to learn and absorb information on how to become better players. I enjoyed the opportunity to help expand their knowledge and skill of the game and pass on the information I was able to gain through my Rugby Union experiences, both on and off the field.
There were difficult challenges that tested me personally and professionally but I feel this helped develop me also, so it was a win-win in my eyes.
The rugby from a skill level is considerably lower than Super Rugby but over my 5 years there, the Top League competition (Japan’s equivalent of Super Rugby) gained strength and quality of play. From a commitment level it is on par, the Japanese players are hard trainers and are very determined to be their best.
My family loved the experience and we have many great friends from our 5 years in Fukuoka, Japan. The people are amazing, the landscapes are beautiful, the food speaks for itself and the country as a whole loves their rugby.
The Japanese have a very unique and traditional culture. Having lived there for 5 years did any of it rub off on you?
I adore the food even more, an interesting fact is that Japanese food tastes better in Japan than in Australia because of the rice, sounds weird but it is true.
I have developed a taste for Japanese rice wine, Sake and potato wine, Shochou.
In Japan, instead of shaking hands people bow when they meet someone. I found myself bowing when saying hello to people I was introduced to at barbecues and parties when I returned to Australia.
I have a healthy respect for Sumo wrestlers, most people think they are overweight blokes who lean on each other when in fact they train the house down and are exceptionally powerful, skilful, and fast athletes.
What or who influenced you into coaching Rugby Union?
It has been a combination of:
- The opportunity and challenge to improve people and see them achieve things they didn’t think they could. Seeing young men develop into better people through Rugby Union, and older guys improve and go to places they thought were out of reach.
- By using my playing experience and having been lucky enough to be coached by some fantastic coaches during my career, I feel I had something to offer from seeing the good and bad qualities of them all and adding my own tangent on coaching philosophy. I am still learning as a coach and have coached with some great coaches who have taught me a lot.
What are your ambitions for the RaboDirect Rebels for season 2012?
By providing an environment that is enjoyable and challenging whilst having accountability at the forefront of our decision making, we will put ourselves in a position to play to our potential and that will give our members and fans an opportunity to see us at our best.
Having been part of the inaugural RaboDirect Rebels coaching panel what will you be doing differently/focussing on to achieve the collective goal for season 2012?
We learnt a lot from 2011 from both a playing and coaching perspective. We have identified key areas of our game to work on and targeted both the physical and mental application of all these areas as starting points for improvement.
The players to date have been exceptional in their application to this process and the coaching group are working hard on ensuring this is maintained throughout the pre-season, into trials and into the 2012 Super Rugby Season.
How are you finding living in Melbourne? What have you discovered?
Absolutely loving it. The people are amazing and there is so much to do. We are still discovering so much in Melbourne and feel we have only just scratched the surface.
The kids (3 girls aged 7, 5, and 2) are loving their school and kindy and my wife(Stef) has met some great friends in our area.
The only sad thing is I am yet to have a surf in Melbourne due to a busy schedule but have made a promise to myself to head to the waves this summer. I ride a mal and have strong reports there are waves a plenty.
Have you picked an AFL team to support?
All over Carlton like a rash, enjoy the Blue Baggers and sing a very poor rendition of the club song.
What does Nathan Grey like to do to relax?
- Playing with the kids is awesome, they make me laugh.
- I enjoy heading out for a ride on my motorbike (Harley Softail Deluxe) when I can. It sounds clichéd but the wind in the hair (or skull, as I am slightly receding) really is very refreshing.
- Reading is something I enjoy and like to do when chilling out listening to folk/singer songwriter tunes.
- And surfing (when I can)