Many rugby league fans have probably already formed their own opinions as to what Blake Ferguson is like. Since his debut in 2009, his on-field persona and limited media exposure have built his image to be someone who is confident, self assured and perhaps a little bit cocky.
What Big League didn’t expect when approaching Ferguson for an interview was a shy smile and a response of, “I don’t really like that stuff” when we pulled a recording device from our pocket.
Perhaps a large reason for his reluctance to speak was the reaction to his move to Canberra in 2011. The then 20-year-old suggested that his pursuit of a premiership was a big factor in deciding to leave Cronulla after 44 games in two years in the Shire. This week he faces his former club, on a five-game winning streak.
But Ferguson did agree to chat, and while fireworks might have been expected, what followed instead was a yarn about how he’s changed his football this year.
Being a freak on the field has often landed the 22-year-old in trouble with coaches and team‑mates alike, as his sometimes low percentage plays led to costly errors in the beginning of his career. But he’s a little bit older, and a little bit wiser, and Ferguson’s fellow Raiders have seen the change in him.
“He’s trained a lot stronger and I think he’s prepared a lot better this year than he has in the past, a lot more professionally,” says Raiders behemoth Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. “I think it’s just a coming of age. It’s been great that he’s recognised the errors in his game were one area he had to fix to go forward and he’s done that. He’s been consistent for us.
“Over the last two years particularly he’s developed a lot, especially this season. I think he’s always had that ability to pull off some freakish things but I think he’s a bit more consistent this year and it’s great to see him get an opportunity for Country as well.”
Ferguson’s first senior representative jumper came on the back of steady form for the Green Machine and the winger says a shift in attitude has been the main factor. Last year he signed a contract extension that will keep him in the nation’s capital until at least 2014.
“My football’s been really, really different this year,” he says. “I haven’t been making many errors and that’s been reflective of my training. I’m really happy with how I’ve started the year so far,” Ferguson says.
“I’m really enjoying living in Canberra. It’s different, a lot different from living in the city. It’s quieter and not as fast-paced.”
But unlike many of his team-mates who enjoy the pleasures of small town living and being at one with nature, Ferguson is surprisingly more of a homebody.
“I don’t really like fishing or anything like that,” he says with a laugh when asked if he enjoys a popular Canberra past-time. “I play basketball a lot and clean my house.”
Ferguson’s first Country Origin jumper came with some baggage. Born in Sydney and playing his junior footy for Earlwood, he was sent to live with his grandparents in Wellington near Dubbo in western New South Wales when he was 13.
He had a choice to make when the time came to pick his allegiance, and his time in Wellington did enough to leave a major imprint on his career.
“I had to choose between City or Country and I chose Country just because it’s closer to my heart, where I’ve grown up,” he says. “I was very grateful to be selected. My phone went off the hook with my grandparents and aunties and uncles all ringing.”
Seeing both sides of the coin in city and country football, he is all too aware of the effect rugby league can have on kids just like him.
“Going to training on a Tuesday or a Thursday keeps the young kids out of trouble. For me it kept me out of trouble. It helps keep you away from the bad influences that might be around.”
As far as the coveted Origin jersey that beckons every New South Welshman in the competition, Ferguson isn’t counting his eggs before they crack – but like the players he looked up to as a kid in Greg Inglis and Matt Cooper, higher representative honours are something he aspires to.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he says of a potential Origin call-up. “I just want to play good for Canberra and play well for Country. Hopefully I get a [chance].”
Despite the humble answer, there are other people who are willing to spruik up his chances – and finally, we get to hear the ‘c’ word.
“He’s a very confident bloke,” says Learoyd‑Lahrs. “I don’t think he’s one guy to let the occasion get the better of him. He’d handle any challenge that’s thrown at him.”
Ferguson v Best