Rugby League

Canberra Raiders captain Terry Campese signs with Super League's Hull Kingston Rovers

EXCLUSIVE

Departing Raiders captain Terry Campese says the club will remain in his blood and he has already talked to officials about the possibility of returning in an off-field role with Canberra once his playing career is over.

The 30-year-old also revealed he had only once seriously considered leaving the Raiders in his 11 NRL seasons, knocking back a $1 million offer in 2009 to cross codes to Japanese rugby union.

The drawn out contractual stand-off between the Raiders and their skipper finally ended on Friday, with Campese released to sign a one-year deal with the Hull Kingston Rovers in the UK Super League.

The Raiders and Campese's management reached a settlement and Canberra will continue to pay a portion of his contract in their 2015 salary cap.

But Campese, who has been training alone in Queanbeyan and hunting for a rugby league lifeline, denied he was walking away from the club bitter.

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In somewhat of a last supper, Campese had lunch with Raiders patron John McIntyre and chief executive Don Furner at Braddon restaurant Italian & Sons on Thursday, which included talk of his life after football.

"I've been at the club for 12 years, I've represented NSW and Australia, but still the proudest moment is leading the squad out and being captain of the club you love," Campese said.

"It's somewhere I'd love to come back to one day, the door's always open as the guys said [at lunch on Thursday]. Hopefully you might see me there again one day, coaching or in some form at the club.

"I've done a few courses and have a few businesses to fall back on, but rugby league's been in my blood since a young fella, so that's where I'd love to end up after playing, whenever that might be."

CAREER IN BALANCE

Campese's career at the Raiders had been in limbo well before he was dropped from the NRL team for the final five games of the season.

The Raiders granted him leave for the first month of the pre-season, another indication he would not be returning for 2015.

Having seen several English deals fall through with Hull FC, Salford and Hull Kingston Rovers before, the unexpected departure of former Raiders forward Neville Costigan from Hull KR opened up a space for Campese.

"To be honest, personally it hasn't been too bad, it's more about the family," Campese said. "The media speculation about the whole thing has definitely made it tough.

"I've got big shoulders and have handled a fair bit over the time I've played footy – you learn quickly, you have to. I was in and out of first grade when I started, up-and-down form. I guess the last five years, when you're in the spotlight more, it's harder on the family when there's bad things. They're the ones I worry about. But we got through it and we're going to Hull.

"It's a bit of closure. Now we can start to build for where we're heading."

RUGBY OPTION

There has been a lot of criticism of the record six-year deal the Raiders offered Campese in mid-2009, when he was playing State of Origin and at the peak of his career.

Since 2010, his career has been littered with injuries, including three that were season-ending.

But Campese has revealed 2009 was the only time he considered leaving the Raiders.

"The only serious time was when I got offered a contract in Japanese rugby when it first started, it was massive," said Campese, nephew of Australian Wallabies great David Campese.

"But there's no regrets. I stayed at the club I loved growing up and wanted to be part of forever, that's a proud part of my career, knocking back something like that to stay loyal.

His manager, Jim Banaghan, spoke with some NRL rivals this year, but Super League was always the preferred option.

"I couldn't relay see myself playing against the Raiders to be honest," Campese said.

RELATIONSHIPS

Campese hasn't talked to Raiders coach Ricky Stuart since the end of the season, but downplayed the significance.

"It's all good, I was his captain for a year, it's all sweet," Campese said. "We haven't spoken since the season finished up. That's just the way things are – he's at training and got 30 blokes or more to look after."

Campese did not want to discuss personal details of why he skipped the Raiders presentation night, saying "there's a lot more that goes on in life than football, it was family things that happened that day that no one needs to know about".

"There's been millions of better players than myself," he said. "I wore my heart on my sleeve and I remembered what Alan Tongue used to say, that he wanted to be the one everyone wanted to play with. That's what I try to live up to."

Segregated from Raiders training since it began in late-October, Campese has adapted by taking part in Queanbeyan's Crossfit group. He is also looking to join pre-season training with his junior club and Canberra Raiders Cup team, the Queanbeyan Blues, from next week.

"They start on Tuesday, so I'll have a chat and see if I can have a run around, just to have some extra fitness and team mentality before I head to England," Campese said.

"I'm not someone who likes to train by himself, so if they welcome me to train with them to get some match fitness, I'd love it."

Asked if he missed Raiders training, Campese said: "It's always hard not being around the boys, but we're good mates. I've made a lot of great mates over my time at the Raiders and friends I'll stick by forever.

"I've been doing a bit of fitness with Queanbeyan Crossfit, they've been flogging me. I've been enjoying it. I feel I'm not in too bad shape."

PLAYING FUTURE

Campese leaves for England after Christmas and has spoken to Hull KR coach Chris Chester this week about his potential role.

While critics have written him off, Campese says he wants to earn an extended contract and play on beyond next year. 

"You've seen it in the past, players moving on and playing their best football," he said. "That's my plan. I want to go over there and show I'm still a young 30 and I can mix it with the best of the Super League. It's a good challenge and one I think I can fulfil.

"Like anyone else, I've got to fight for my position. I think five-eighth or lock is what we're talking, but it all depends on form. I don't want to let anyone down, especially going to a new squad. You want to get in there and fire straight away."

"It excites me. I always knew I was destined to go to the Super League, sometimes things come around sooner that you anticipate. But it's the best thing for me and my family to move on a year earlier."

RAIDERS' CAPTAINCY

Campese took on the co-captaincy with Tongue in 2011, before accepting the role solo in 2012.

Centre Jarrod Croker finished the season as captain in his absence, with Campese anointing Croker and lock Shaun Fensom as potential successors.

"There's a few," Campese said. "I'm not sure which way they're going to go, hopefully someone who will be at the club for a while. Crokes did a good job, Shaun Fensom's coming back [from a knee reconstruction ... if I was there, I'd go with Fenno or Crokes."

Campese also showed confidence in rookie halfback Mitch Cornish, who took his spot at the end of the season, and Canberra's credentials for 2015.

"I think they've bought well, they've got some exciting players," Campese said. "If they can keep everyone on the field, they can challenge. I've always been confident in the squads we've had."

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