Before Big League sits down for a chat with Martin Kennedy, Sydney Roosters coach Brian Smith tells us that his prop forward calls a spade a spade.
In an age when media training and general cautiousness often dulls down what players say to the media, Kennedy’s refreshing honesty is clear from the get go. Especially when it comes to discussing his own form.
“It’s been such a bad start to the year for me,” Kennedy says. “I’m really disappointed with the way I’ve been playing for the first 14 rounds. Being out of the game for 12 months, bed-ridden, to walking, to learning how to run again was really tough to overcome.”
While there isn’t a footy fan who would be quite as harsh on Kennedy as the man himself, his comeback from a terrible foot injury did, quite literally, take the spring out of his step.
It was Round 8 last year when he hurt his foot so badly it became career-threatening – and it was a long, slow and frustrating road back to first grade.
“It was a pretty debilitating type thing, you can’t do a lot with it,” says Brian Smith of the injury. “It was a bit of a caged lion thing for him, not being able to do anything. He was off his feet for six or seven months. It’s been a slow process for him to get it going again.
“He said it’s been harder than he thought it would be to find his rhythm, and to be able to do the technical things that front-rowers do: a good tackle technique, how to carry the ball, stepping into holes.
“He’s had to put a lot of effort and a lot of extra work into it. I would say the past couple of weeks it’s starting to bear fruit for him. He’s still got some ways to go but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get on a roll with it now.”
Kennedy’s passion and determination to get that roll on is evident the moment he starts talking about his injury. The weeks of limited movement – especially for someone who is used to being active – were frustrating, but he took last year as an opportunity for growth.
“You look back and it makes everything else so much easier,” Kennedy says. “There are fitness sessions in the year where you think, I really don’t want to be doing this. But you think back, and I would’ve given anything to be able to run around at Christmas time. It makes it so much easier when you’ve got the tough stuff behind you.”
The 23-year-old, who was born in Lismore in northern New South Wales but spent most of his life in Ipswich (we’ll get back to that later), is one of the special talents discovered by Arthur Beetson playing junior footy and brought down to the Roosters as soon as they were old enough.
In Kennedy’s case, he was 17 when he became part of the Roosters system. But far from being overawed about moving to the glittering Eastern Suburbs on his own, he used that time as motivation.
“We had a really good support network when I moved down, and I had been at boarding school since I was 14 so I was used to not having Mum there to pick up my dirty laundry and stuff like that,” Kennedy says with a smile. “It gave it a purpose why I was here. I was so far from home but it really reminded me every day when I woke up and I was in such a foreign place that I was here for a reason, to get something done. It was quite motivating being so far from home.”
And that motivation bore fruit as Kennedy turned heads early in his career. After just 30 games of first grade he became the unwitting pawn in a state war, as New South Wales tried to claim him as one of their own.
He might have been born in the Blue state, but he knows very well where his allegiance lies.
“It was nice that they were mentioning me in such high esteem,” Kennedy says of the furore over his eligibility. “I guess it was frustrating that things were said that weren’t really accurate. I still get people asking me if I’m Blue or a Maroon. I’m a Queenslander and as proud as we always are, there were never any second guesses about it.”
Off the field, Kennedy studies nutritional medicine, and has already made strides in getting his Roosters team-mates to rethink their diets.
“Marty is not the sort of stereotypical front‑rower, not that there’s probably many more of them. He’s a university-educated guy and he’s quite knowledgeable,” says his coach.
“He’s a guy with some leadership, and he doesn’t suffer fools. He calls a spade a spade. I’m looking forward to seeing further development in him.”