Journeyman Rhys Kennedy finds a home in Brisbane Broncos' powerful pack

Moruya-born Rhys Kennedy has taken his career to the next level at Brisbane. Photo: Broncos Media
Moruya-born Rhys Kennedy has taken his career to the next level at Brisbane. Photo: Broncos Media

Overcoming adversity is nothing new for NSW South Coast rugby league product Rhys Kennedy.

By the age of 25, numerous NRL players have established themselves and have more than 50 games to their names.

But Moruya-born Kennedy, who has 11 caps in his career, isn't like most NRL players. He's bounced around a number of clubs just to get his foot in the door.

His professional journey started with Melbourne's under 20s team, before stints with the Canberra Raiders, Illawarra Cutters and North Sydney Bears - which ultimately led to him making his first grade debut with South Sydney on March 31 last year.

The 197cm prop would play one more game with the Rabbitohs before making a mid-season transfer to the Brisbane Broncos.

"One of the main reasons I made the move north was because of my relationship with Anthony Seibold (Broncos coach), who I played under earlier in my career at the Storm," Kennedy said.

"He understands first-hand some of the adversities I've been through during my career and can appreciate all the little things I'm willing to do to help the team win.

"There's definitely a mutual respect there and he's a coach I wanted to play under once again.

A young Rhys Kennedy during his time with the Melbourne under 20s side. Photo: Storm Media

A young Rhys Kennedy during his time with the Melbourne under 20s side. Photo: Storm Media

"On top of that, I felt the Broncos wanted me that little bit more.

"At the time, my contract with Souths only ran until the end of 2019 and they were still deciding what to do with me, whereas the Broncos were willing to extend my deal by another season.

"Over the years, I've learnt to follow my gut and go with the club that wants me more.

"I didn't want to be stuck in the same position I'd been in previous years, where I'm unsure on my future - I'm really happy I made the move, as it's completely changed my career."

A lot of the adversity the Moruya High School alumnus alludes to can be credited to his constant changing of footy environments.

"One of the toughest things over the past couple of years has been the constant moving around," he said.

"It's hard to get consistency in football and your life if you're constantly changing environments.

Rhys Kennedy trains with Canberra earlier in his career. Photo: Raiders Media

Rhys Kennedy trains with Canberra earlier in his career. Photo: Raiders Media

"Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't change any of it, as it's shaped who I am today. It wasn't easy but I learnt a lot - especially going from a full-time position at Canberra back to part-time Wollongong, while trying to juggle university (Bachelor of Exercise Science) and a full-time job.

"Then when I started playing with North Sydney, I had an even busier schedule, as I had two jobs - an Uber driver and a personal trainer - on top of travelling down and back to Wollongong each day for university.

"Finally, I had to transition back into full-time training once I signed with the Rabbitohs.

"Looking back, that was definitely the toughest period of my career but I'm proud of the way I juggled everything and hung in there to keep my footy dream alive."

His rugby league dream is now well and truly alive, having made nine appearances for the Red Hill-based club since his arrival in June, which includes him withstanding his most gruelling off-season to date.

"As I'd transferred up to Brisbane last year, this was my first pre-season at the club, which is right up there with one of the toughest I've had," he said.

"A lot of that has to do with the coaching staff and the playing group, which is the most talented and hard-working squad I've had the pleasure of being a part of.

"Our performances as a team during the first two rounds showed this, despite the lingering threat of the coronavirus in the back of our minds.

Rhys Kennedy takes a hit-up for the Illawarra Cutters. Photo: NSWRL

Rhys Kennedy takes a hit-up for the Illawarra Cutters. Photo: NSWRL

"I can remember us all getting called into training, where the club explained what was happening - everything was shut down in a matter of days.

"My first thought was to head home to Canberra with my partner Jordynne (who also been stood down from her job), as I probably wouldn't get another chance for the rest of the season.

"We knew it would be easier for us to be supported back in Canberra with her family.

"So with news the Queensland border was shutting that night, we packed up our house in a matter of hours and then started the long drive down to Canberra."

It's because of all this aforementioned adversity, that he was able to deal with the unprecedented coronavirus lockdown so well - using the extra time to his advantage.

"Both my partner and I used this time to get on top of our university work - Jordynne's was already online while mine all got transferred to online because of the lockdown," he said.

"Apart from study keeping us busy, I also trained hard to maintain my strength and fitness.

"One way I did this was with the help of Jordynne's foster dad, who helped me build a squat rack out of timber, to go with the weight set I already had in Canberra.

"I knew it was imperative I kept my muscle mass on, which is an aspect I worked extremely hard to build up during the pre-season.

Rhys Kennedy goes on the charge for the North Sydney Bears. Photo: NSWRL

Rhys Kennedy goes on the charge for the North Sydney Bears. Photo: NSWRL

"Obviously I wanted to keep my fitness up too, which was made easier by the conditioning program sent through by the club.

"However, it's hard to replicate the same intensity during individual sessions as you do around your teammates during club workouts, because of the lack of competitive nature, which always seems to make you work that little bit harder.

"In saying that, I never had any trouble with motivating myself to train during the lockdown, as I enjoy staying fit and active."

Kennedy, who grew up at Tuross Head, also spent his lockdown doing activities like kayaking and mountain bike riding at Canberra's Mount Stromlo with his brother Mitch - before heading back to the Sunshine State earlier this month to resume Broncos training.

"The first Monday and Tuesday (May 4 and 5) back with the club outlined all the protocols we had to adhere to if we wanted to be able to train," he said.

"Every morning when we wake up we have to do a survey on a NRL app, as well as take our own temperatures and log whether we have any coronavirus symptoms.

"Once we arrive at training, we have to walk in specific lines where spaces are marked out 1.5 metres apart before our temperature is taken once again with the club's health advisors.

Rhys Kennedys makes a run during his NRL debut for South Sydney against the Gold Coast. Photo: Rabbitohs Media

Rhys Kennedys makes a run during his NRL debut for South Sydney against the Gold Coast. Photo: Rabbitohs Media

"We then take the survey once again, before taking our shoes off and putting them in a bag, which we retrieve at the end of practice once we've ticked all the right boxes to leave training and go home, which apart from essential services like the grocery store, is the only place other than practice we can be at the moment.

"Then on the Wednesday, we resumed field work, in small groups of 10 - although we were limited to what we could actually do, it was good to be back out there working with the boys

"We finally resumed full contact and regular training this week on Monday, which included a lot of game scenarios and wrestling work as we only have three weeks to get our bodies ready for the season to resume."

As happy as Kennedy's side are with their opening two round victories against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs, they know there's still a mountain of hard work left in front of them in 2020.

"We know it's going to be a huge challenge to pick up where we left off the season," Kennedy said.

Brisbane's Rhys Kennedy palms off a Canterbury-Bankstown opponent. Photo: Broncos Media

Brisbane's Rhys Kennedy palms off a Canterbury-Bankstown opponent. Photo: Broncos Media

"Not being together for six weeks isn't going to be an easy hurdle to overcome but everyone's in the same boat.

"If the last two days, where we've transitioned really well back into intense training and are looking quite sharp, are anything to go by, I'm confident we can build on our strong start to the season.

"Everyone is doing all the work to put us in the best position to succeed when we return to games later this month."

From a personal point of view, Kennedy, who's played 24 and 29 minutes off the bench respectively during the opening two matches, is happy with his contributions to the side's success.

"The feedback from Seibs [Anthony Seibold] on my performances has been really positive," he said.

"I'm only playing small minutes at this stage but I know as a forward, who can have a lot of their work go unnoticed, it's important I continue to do those selfless acts for the team because every team needs guys who are prepared to roll their sleeves up and do the dirty work.

Rhys Kennedy gets a pass away during a recent Brisbane training sessions. Photo: Broncos Media

Rhys Kennedy gets a pass away during a recent Brisbane training sessions. Photo: Broncos Media

"The coaches are particularly happy with my defence and tackling, but have encouraged me to add more dimensions to my game in attack, such as an offload.

"With such a deep forward pack, which I consider to easily be one of the strongest in the competition, it's hard to get big minutes at this stage. So it's important I go as hard as I can when I get on the field and ensure we don't lose anything when players such as Payne Haas and Thomas Flegler leave the field."

If he does this, he is confident he can achieve his personal goals for the season.

"My main focus is playing more NRL games this season than I did in 2019," said Kennedy, who is the tallest player on the Broncos' roster.

"I know it's only a small goal, which I made in pre-season, but I know it's important to not get too far ahead of myself and make the most of each and every game.

"If I do that, I'll give myself the best opportunity to get re-signed and set myself up for the next couple of years.

"I'm really enjoying my time with the club and I'd love to spend even more time here if given the chance."

This story Journeyman Kennedy finds a home in Broncos' powerful pack first appeared on South Coast Register.