The Sunday Telegraph
March 10, 2017 10:55am
AS a professional rugby player who made a high-profile code switch at his peak, Curtis Rona will earn more this season than most of us will in four years.
Yet he drives around in a beaten-up car that he’d be lucky to sell for $2000.
“I’ve got a Mazda 121, it’s a 1994 model,” Rona said.
“I like the simple life. I want to have a good life, but I’m not tied up in luxuries.
“Growing up in New Zealand, then moving to Perth as a kid and seeing your parents working two jobs each, we didn’t have much, the struggle was real.
“But now I have a beautiful baby girl (15-month-old Sapphire), she lights up my world. And I have a beautiful wife who has been there for me from day one.”
And this is the best explanation why Rona — one of the most devastating wingers in the NRL — quit to join the lowliest Super Rugby franchise in Australia.
“People still ask me why I did it,” he said.
But they don’t understand the relationship Rona has with wife Jacinta.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without her,” he said.
“I know a lot of people say that, but we were high school sweethearts; she has been the driving force behind me for a long time. I was 15, she was 14 when we met and she has always been there for me.”
So, despite being midway through her university degree and with all of her family settled in Perth, Jacinta packed up when Rona moved to Sydney and signed with the Bulldogs.
“We were living by ourselves, a young couple, it would have been easier for her to walk away saying, ‘this is a bit too hard for me’,” Rona said.
“She made the toughest decision. She was at uni, she had her family network around her and she gave that all up to support me and my career.”
While most people baulked at the idea the NRL’s equal-leading tryscorer of 2015 would consider a move to the Western Force, Rona was always going to do best by his family.
Despite strong pressure to remain in league — a code in which he scored 41 tries in 57 games — Rona decided to move back to the city he and Jacinta grew up in and join the Force on a two-year deal.
Growing up playing for Wanneroo Districts juniors, it was a huge gamble for Rona, 24, to move from one of the most recognised clubs in the NRL to the Force, who had won just five games in the previous two years.
“We did think long and hard about it, this wasn’t a decision made overnight,” Rona said.
“But everything in life is a risk. I wanted to back myself and be known for being able to play both codes.”
Rona is still a league fan; he watched his former Bulldogs teammates lose to Melbourne last Friday night and also saw his younger brother, Jayden Stephens, make his debut for North Queensland under-20s last Saturday. But Rona is firmly in Camp Force.
This is a team not even guaranteed existence beyond 2017 as the ARU considers cutting a franchise. Yet here they were last Thursday, playing their first game of the season at nib Stadium, a venue at which they had not won a match in 663 days.
With 11 minutes remaining and trailing 19-18 to Queensland, Rona scored the match-winning try to break one of the most horrid droughts in Australian sport.
“We don’t want one superstar, we want to play as a team, for each other,” Rona said.
It’s a formula that works as well in marriage as it does in sport.