Rugby League

Canberra Raiders hooker Kurt Baptiste almost quit NRL

Canberra Raiders bolter Kurt Baptiste says he would likely be playing overseas if the club had not offered him a career lifeline at the end of 2013, admitting chronic shoulder injuries almost ended his NRL ambitions.

The 24-year-old might seem like Canberra's overnight success story, former Australian player and league commentator Matthew Johns referring to the anonymous hooker as "that little bald bloke with the beard" after recent performances off the Raiders bench.

Kurt Baptiste
Kurt Baptiste Photo: Rohan Thomson

But Baptiste's journey back into the NRL has been five years in the making.

"No one knows me at the moment," Baptiste says. "That's a good thing, I like it that way."

Baptiste starred with the Brisbane Broncos at Under-20s level and played five NRL games in 2011-12, but a series of dislocated shoulders stalled his progress.

His career was in jeopardy at the end of 2013 when he came off contract at the Broncos, NRL rivals showing interest but deals falling through on the young injury-prone hooker.

Baptiste was ready to move overseas until the Raiders took a punt and offered him a second-tier deal.

"There was a chance to go overseas, which I was probably going to take up if there was no NRL club to take me on," Baptiste said. ​"Trying to get a club when I was injured was pretty hard, because I couldn't show anyone I was playing good footy," Baptiste said.

"It was pretty hard for me, my lease was coming up where I was staying and we had to tell them what was happening.

"Canberra signed me two months after surgery and I came down a bit behind the eight ball.

"It was a pretty hard time for me, I couldn't catch a break for a while."

Baptiste got his break when he was recalled to the NRL with the Raiders towards the end of 2014, but he injured his shoulder again after five matches.

Despite the set-back, the Raiders re-signed him for another two seasons, again on a second-tier deal. He is now starting to reward Canberra's faith.

This year Baptiste began pre-season as the fourth-string hooker behind Josh Hodgson, Josh McCrone and Glen Buttriss. He has fought his way through the pack to become the bench support for Hodgson, helping swing the momentum in Canberra's past two wins.

"[Raiders coach] Ricky [Stuart] could've just said we won't sign him because of injuries, it was definitely a confidence booster when he wanted to sign me after I did the shoulder again," Baptiste said.  "I was always confident I could get back."

Former Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Griffin handed Baptiste his first grade debut in 2011, having signed him as a Queensland Schoolboys representative halfback. Baptiste shifted to hooker, but found himself stuck behind Andrew McCullough.

"It's great to see him pushing through now," Griffin said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world and when you play in the middle, sometimes those injuries take a while to get over. 

"He could really hit for a little guy. Obviously that's taken its toll but it'll come back. It doesn't surprise me watching how good he's going."​