Rugby League

High hopes for Herbert

He was the rookie Canberra Raiders halfback who helped propel the Green Machine into the 2008 NRL finals. Now the Queanbeyan Blues have faith that Marc Herbert can turn them into a premiership force in the Canberra Raiders Cup.

Herbert, who played 23 NRL matches with the Raiders between 2008 and 2010, quit rugby league in 2011 after a season in the UK Super League with the Bradford Bulls.

Just 26, Herbert made his official comeback to rugby league with the Blues last weekend and will skipper Queanbeyan against defending premiers the Belconnen United Scholars at Northbourne Oval on Saturday.

Former Raiders skipper and now Blues coach Simon Woolford has already seen enough in Herbert to suggest he can turn them into a true premiership contender again.

''The first thing I did when I agreed to coach the Blues this year was ring Marc Herbert,'' Woolford said. ''I knew he was in town, I knew he hadn't played in 2012. To be honest, I didn't expect him to say yes, not as quickly as he did anyway.

''I wasn't sure if he was over rugby league, but he agreed to play in that same week I caught up with him.''

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Herbert was thrust into the NRL in 2008 when Raiders halfback Todd Carney was suspended for off-field behaviour. While many experts at the time wrote off the Raiders, the 21-year-old Herbert formed an immediate combination with Terry Campese that propelled the Raiders into the finals with a sensational finish to the season.

Herbert, who captained the Raiders Under 18s to a premiership, was then traded by Canberra to Bradford as a direct swap for Matt Orford.

When he was released by the Bulls, Herbert turned down other offers in Britain to return to Canberra and focus on life after football. He is studying full-time at university, but the call to come back to rugby league was too tempting.

''I had a couple of offers from clubs in England but they weren't probably good enough for me to stay. For me it was about looking forward to my future, so I made the decision to come back, go to uni and get my life sorted.

''I hadn't really been thinking about playing again but [Woolford] sent me a text and said he'd love to have a chat about me coming back. He sort of talked me into it, but it didn't take long.

''It's been a year-and-a-half since I'd played, maybe more. It was enjoyable [last weekend], I was still a bit sore during the week, so I've got to get used to that again.''

Herbert said once he left the UK in 2011 he had decided not to pursue professional rugby league

Woolford, who finished his career at the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2008, never played with Herbert.

''He was always a kid with promise, I remember him training with us in opposed sessions and he always had a great little kicking game,'' Woolford recalled.

''There's no doubting his ability and class. He's a quiet sort of bloke, nothing fazes him, he's so composed on the field.

''Last week he was great directing us around the field, he had some really classy touches, picked his time to run the footy and caused them plenty of trouble when he did.

''There's no doubt we've got the individual players there to have a good season, but my job is to make sure they're playing for each other. If we can do that the sky's the limit.''

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