Brenton Lawrence on the run for the Manly Sea Eagles. Photo: Brendan Esposito
BRENTON LAWRENCE has the perfect excuse to skip one of his best mate's wedding in Canberra this weekend as he puts the finishing touches to preparations for Sunday's NRL grand final.
The Manly prop will be toasted at kick-off time on Sunday by former teammates at the Woden Valley Rams, who remember the impact he had on the park footy club during his spell as captain-coach in 2009.
The 28-year-old has been one of the finds of the season since joining from the Gold Coast where he played just 18 games and made one start in two years.
Coach Brenton Lawrence at Woden Rams training in 2009. Photo: Melissa Adams
But his success with Manly is no surprise to Rams chairman James Gildea, who tied the knot on Saturday, then hoped to round off a momentous weekend by seeing Lawrence win a NRL premiership 24 hours later. ''He was just so professional in everything he did,'' Gildea said.
''He took a team that probably had no right to be there, to just one game off the grand final. He got the best out of players by giving them self-belief and that's what's got him to where he is now.''
The Mackay-born, South Australia-raised front-rower's winding road to the NRL has been well documented with Canberra offering him a contract when he was 17 after driving 14 hours to the nation's capital from Adelaide for a trial.
2009 Canberra Raiders Cup Preliminary Final at Sieffert Oval - Goulburn's Cody Medway tackles Rams captain Brenton Lawrence. Photo: Graham Tidy
But after the Raiders opted to sign Joe Picker to a first-grade deal instead of Lawrence, he drifted out of the professional game, ending up at the Rams.
''He was head and shoulders above the rest of us,'' Gildea said. ''He'd pick the ball up from lock, sprint the length of the field and score. He was way better than our comp. His speed was just unfair, a bloke that big shouldn't be that fast.
''But he's a champion bloke as well. I hate Manly but I'll be cheering for them on Sunday.''
Lawrence remembers his time at the Rams fondly and credits the club with helping him finally crack the NRL.
''James said it's a fair excuse to miss his wedding, but I've told him I'll hopefully come down and compare my premiership ring with his wedding ring,'' Lawrence said.
''I had a few calls and motivating catch phrases that I used to use when I was there and the boys always like to remind me of those when I see them.
''It pumps me up a little bit to know they were actually listening to me. All I can say is good things about my time down there. It helped me learn a lot more about the game.''
Lawrence believes clubs are missing a lot of talent by focusing solely on the under-20s competition.
''You get the odd [young] freak like an Israel Folau or a Karmichael Hunt who, when they came on to the scene, were just unbelievable,'' he said. ''But I would love to see a national reserve-grade competition that brings in the best Queensland and NSW second-tier players.
''It can only be good for the NRL. If that means getting rid of the under-20s comp then so be it.'' AAP