The honour and pride that accompanies playing for Australia in the Anzac Test has collided with one of the biggest moments in Sam Thaiday’s life. Once he crosses that white sideline stripe at Canberra Stadium in a resolute return for the Kangaroos, the second-rower will play the hard-running, dominant game we expect from ‘Slammin’ Sam’. But afterwards, the 110-kilogram hulk will transform back into a tender first-time father.
Last week the Broncos’ captain prepared for the Queensland derby blockbuster against the Cowboys by pacing the corridors of the Mater Hospital. Two days before the match, his wife and childhood sweetheart Rachel gave birth to their daughter.
After leading Brisbane to a gritty two-point win, Thaiday looked exhausted at the post-match press conference. “It’s been a big couple of days,” he said with a wry, weary smile. “But Rachel’s done all the hard work. She was in labour for eight hours... she was a trooper. Our little baby is girly like her mum, but she’s got my big noggin, poor little thing.”
The Bronco’s baby news spread quickly and Sam was looking forward to getting his new bundle home to begin life as a family. However the Australian selectors had other ideas, naming Thaiday in the trans-Tasman Anzac Test.
The clash against the Kiwis has held significance for Sam ever since he picked up man-of-the-match honours against New Zealand in 2010, so a return to the green and gold for the traditional April match was crucial – especially with the Test acting as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming World Cup. The only problem was that the Thaidays had spent just a precious two days together before Sam jumped on a plane for the Kangaroos’ camp in the nation’s capital.
Of course the Thaidays aren’t the first to juggle a growing family with football duties. Former Australian captain Darren Lockyer remembers the sleepless nights and pangs of being away from home either on club or representative duties. He went to training at Red Hill in late April, 2010, only to find himself hours later at the hospital helping wife Loren welcome their baby boy. Forget the head-wetting, the next night Lockyer skippered the Broncos against the Knights at Lang Park.
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The King, Wally Lewis, performed the ultimate balancing act in 1986, celebrating the arrival of his first son Mitchell, then leaving to captain Australia for a 20-match tour of Great Britain and France. Under the first Queensland captain for nearly 50 years, the Kangaroos’ feats earned themselves the nickname ‘The Unbeatables’.
An upcoming ‘due date’ dilemma is building for Maroons star Johnathan Thurston. He and his long-time partner Samantha are expecting their first child on June 5 – which happens to be the date of the State of Origin opener in Sydney.
Depending on where ‘JT’ feels he needs to be, it may be a case of baby bonus or (perish the thought) bummer.
So while our NRL stars are busy at work – training, playing and leaving a legacy in league – it’s the unfaltering wives and partners who are left at home ‘holding the baby’.
But here’s the thing: the wives and girlfriends I’ve spoken to are happy to take on a more-prominent role in parenting, pick up the slack around the house and keep a family together.
Obviously I’m not referring to the girls with dazzling smiles seen all too often in the social pages of the paper, but the real women in league. With their partners playing away every other round, these women often find themselves alone on the weekends, as the only parent or sole carer.
Ben Hannant’s wife Emma is nothing short of incredible. I have seen her keep four small, golden-haired children amused, fed and contented at Suncorp Stadium – while heavily pregnant with bub number five! In the sheds after the match, the littlest Hannants happily play on the floor until their father emerges freshly showered, signs autographs for the other patiently waiting kids, before scooping up his own brood in a big bear hug.
So back to Sam and his Anzac Test. It will be another epic battle between the Kangaroos and Kiwis, with the Thaidays’ supporter base growing by one more cute addition. Sam will still get plenty of practice at being a new dad though – Rachel is the poster girl for the Broncos’ Fillies Women in League luncheon next month, so it’ll be the Broncos’ captain who on this occasion is happily left holding the baby!