EAST Maitland Griffins junior Robbie Rochow had written off playing NRL for his beloved Newcastle Knights when he packed his bags and headed to Melbourne almost four years ago.
Just 18, and a devoted Knights fan and junior representative player, Rochow left home at the end of 2008 and played in the Storm’s National Youth Cup-winning team the following year.
He made his NRL debut for Melbourne in 2010, played another game in the top grade last year, and was more than happy honing his skills under the eye of Storm head coach Craig Bellamy.
But Rochow, who played first grade for Kurri Kurri in his teens, said he did not need to be asked twice when the Knights offered him a chance to come home.
It was a long time coming but Rochow made his Knights debut against Manly at Hunter Stadium last Saturday, coming off the bench in an emphatic 32-6 victory over the old enemy.
‘‘Probably not, I didn’t think I’d be coming back,’’ Rochow, the Knights’ 237th first-grader, said.
‘‘When I first went down there, I was happy and I loved playing and training down there but as soon as I got the opportunity to come back, I was really excited to take that up.
‘‘It is the club I supported growing up, so I was really excited to play for them on the weekend.’’
Rochow ran seven times for 63 metres and made 17 tackles in 37 minutes against the Sea Eagles, and hopes it was enough to convince coach Wayne Bennett to keep him in the team to play the Warriors in Auckland on Saturday night.
His preparation for his Knights NRL debut had been limited, having come off the bench for a short stint in Newcastle’s NSW Cup the previous week after eight weeks on the sidelines resting two bulging discs in his back.
‘‘But I got enough minutes and enough confidence out of that to be confident enough to put in a good performance at the weekend,’’ Rochow said.
‘‘... I had my parents and my grandma and my sister there, so it was good to play in front of them ... and I was really excited and just grateful to get a chance to play for this club.’’
After a trouble-free pre-season, Rochow missed the trials due to minor knee surgery but had never given up hope of playing NRL this year even while his back was giving him grief.
‘‘... That was definitely a goal,’’ he said.
‘‘I didn’t have any set time or period when I wanted to play, but I was put back a fair bit with injury this year. I haven’t had the best run. I want to do my best to stay on the field and hopefully my body holds for the rest of the year.
‘‘I’ve played a couple of games but I haven’t put two together so that’s what I’m hoping. I know I’ve missed a few opportunities in my early career so I just want to do the best I can.’’
Knights utility back Peter Mata’utia has been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a cracked larynx playing in Newcastle’s NSW Cup team nine days ago.