Bennett throws former Raider Waddell a lifeline
Travis Waddell celebrates with Canberra fans last year. Waddell has been looking for an NRL contract since being released by the Raiders at the end of 2012. Photo: Getty Images
He's the Indigenous All Star who has been working full-time in a steel factory because he couldn't find an NRL club, now the once-called ''Steel City of Newcastle'' could be the place where Travis Waddell resurrects his rugby league career.
Released by the Canberra Raiders at the end of last season, Waddell is lodging with super coach Wayne Bennett this week and is confident he can train and play his way to a contract with the Newcastle Knights this season.
The 23-year-old hooker was shocked to be selected in Laurie Daley's Indigenous All Stars team for next month's NRL All Stars match in Brisbane, admitting he didn't even realise he was eligible for voting because he wasn't contracted at an NRL club.
But Waddell has backed himself to make the most of the All Stars opportunity and a training stint with the Knights to earn his ticket back into the NRL.
Waddell has returned to his roots to train three days a week with Queensland Cup team Souths Logan Magpies and work five days a week for one of their sponsors, a Brisbane steel company.
But after meeting with Bennett at the coach's Brisbane home, Waddell accepted an invitation to stay at Bennett's Newcastle residence while he trials with the Knights this week. Waddell, who has played all 53 of his NRL matches with the Raiders, remains uncontracted but has agreed to train one week a month with the Knights and has been given the incentive of playing in their two NRL trials - against the South Sydney Rabbitohs on February 16 and the Cronulla Sharks on February 23.
''Wayne has given me that opportunity,'' Waddell said. ''I've just got to play good footy in the trials and in the All Stars and you never know what might happen.''
Waddell, who often moonlighted as a barman during his early days with the Raiders, said the return to his blue-collar background in Brisbane had revived his love of the game. ''I needed to go back to enjoying my footy again … like [the feeling] I used to get when I was younger. I just needed that feeling back again,'' Waddell said.
''I didn't have a club to go to, so I went back to Souths Logan and started training there because that's the club I started out at before I went to the NRL.
''I work five days a week pretty much just cutting steel for Scott Lewis, he used to play for the [Brisbane] Broncos and he's a sponsor for Souths Logan … it's lifting and stacking pallets, cutting steel.
''It has made me appreciate [playing league] a bit more. I just want to get back into playing NRL.''
Despite playing 21 NRL games for the Raiders last year, Waddell said he had no resentment towards the club for cutting him loose
''I actually think it's a good thing for me, I did need a change,'' Waddell said. ''I want to get another opportunity at another club now, I've got nothing bad to say about the Raiders or my time in Canberra … I'm looking forward to a new challenge.
''I have got a really good feeling, I wanted to start fresh at another club, so hopefully I get that opportunity at Newcastle.''
''I think I have got heaps to offer, I didn't really play my best footy [at Canberra] and I know I can play way better than that. I know it, I've just got to bring it out, starting fresh.''
Waddell has represented the Indigenous All Stars every year since the inaugural match in 2010, but said he hadn't even thought about this year's fixture until he received a phone call to confirm his selection.
He admitted it was always surreal to play alongside superstars such as Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, but especially this year.
''Friends had been texting saying they were voting for me, I didn't think I was still in the voting,'' Waddell said.
''It's always a good feeling playing for the All Stars, but this one probably means more to me.
''I get a bit nervous with the big guys there like Thurston and Inglis. Once I brush them nerves off, that's when I play my best footy.''