Newcastle Rugby League: Reigning country player of the year Tori Freeman-Quay relishing move to Lions from Canberra

DETERMINATION: South Newcastle recruit Tori Freeman-Quay playing for Monaro against the Rebels in last year's under-23 NSW Country Championships final at St John Oval. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
DETERMINATION: South Newcastle recruit Tori Freeman-Quay playing for Monaro against the Rebels in last year's under-23 NSW Country Championships final at St John Oval. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Up until the last week or so, Tori Freeman-Quay thought he’d escaped the cold, harsh winters of the nation’s capital.

But despite the chill factor recently experienced across the Hunter region during the season’s first snow fall on top of the Barringtons, the South Newcastle recruit has enjoyed the change of scenery north of Canberra.

“I’ve been enjoying it heaps, especially this time of year because it’s starting to get fresh down there,” Freeman-Quay said. “I was keen to get out of that winter.”

The Lions were just as welcoming of Freeman-Quay’s arrival for this campaign, via a NSW Cup deal inked with the Newcastle Knights.

Not only having lost US representative Matt Shipway (Wests), Rebels prop Roman Fepuleai (Lakes) and premiership-winning hooker Liam Higgins (Queensland Cup) from last year’s forward pack, but also following on from Freeman-Quay being named 2017 Country Rugby League player of the year.   

“It was pretty surprising when that happened, but it was a real privilege to win that,” the former West Belconnen player said. 

“There’s some big names that have taken that out.”

The prestigious honour role features former NRL players such as Mick Cronin (1974), Steve Walters (1987) and more recently Chris Adams (2014, 2016).   

Freeman-Quay picked up the award last year after leading Monaro to victory in the inaugural under-23 NSW Country Championship final, playing against Newcastle at St John Oval, before helping the selected boys from the bush upset Scotland in a World Cup warm-up match at Ballina.

Now the Shortland-based 24-year-old plumber is working towards following in those famous footsteps, having last month started three times in the second-row for the Knights’ reserve-grade side.

“Obviously it’s another step above in terms of quality and it’s a lot quicker,” he said.

“But I’ve been really enjoying it and hopefully I can get back up there soon.”

Freeman-Quay dropped back the past fortnight and has rejoined Souths in the Newcastle Rugby League competition. The Lions’ improvement has been no coincidence, narrowly beaten on the bell by title holders Macquarie at Toronto before cracking their first win of the season against Wests at home on Sunday.  

“It’s always good to get the two points,” the former Raiders under-18 representative and Forbes boarding school student said. “We gave it away a little bit against the Scorps so it was good to come out and get the win against Wests.”  

Souths have the weekend off and he’s been named 18th man for the Knights ahead of Sunday’s NSW Cup-clash with Canterbury at North Sydney Oval.     

Freeman-Quay, who attended Red Bend Catholic College, has enjoyed being mentored at the Lions by former NRL front-rower Ben Cross. 

“He [Cross] is a good person to have as coach,” he said.

“He’s got a lot of experience in the NRL, especially being down in Melbourne for a bit of his career. So there’s a lot of knowledge and me being another forward that’s pretty handy.”

The respect is mutual from Cross.

“He [Freeman-Quay] is a team-minded player, willing to do what’s asked of his role,” Cross said.

“He has a defensive mentality and is a powerful, skillful ball runner.”