Newcastle rugby: Wanderers prop in a rush to master new role

ON THE CHARGE: Blair Rush has enjoyed the transition from lock to loose-head prop for Wanderers but concedes he still has plenty of work ahead. Picture: Stewart Hazell

ON THE CHARGE: Blair Rush has enjoyed the transition from lock to loose-head prop for Wanderers but concedes he still has plenty of work ahead. Picture: Stewart Hazell

BLAIR Rush drew the short straw. Plain and simple.

That is how the in-form Wanderers front-rower explains his transformation from lock to loose-head prop.

Blair made the pilgrimage home to Northland last October for an annual rugby tournament. It’s a reunion of sorts for the Rush family. They play for their village Matangirau against a dozen other townships in the Bay of Islands.

“I got home and the first thing dad said to me was ‘we need a prop and you drew the short straw’,” Rush said. “It is tough footy. Growing up that’s where we all get blooded in. I actually enjoyed it. There are a few Auckland club coaches who go up there every year and they told me I should think about making the change to prop.”

Unbeknown to Rush, Wanderers coach Darren Young had also toyed with the possibility of moving the Kiwi into the front-row.

“He was a very good lock but had two years interrupted by injury,” Young said. “At that stage we struggled to name three props for three grades. When he came back from New Zealand, he asked what I thought of him moving up front. It was a blessing.”

Blair, who stands 193cm and weighs 130 kilograms, is now the first front-rower picked. What’s more he has helped transform a Wanderers weakness into a strength.

“It is a tough gig, but I enjoy the challenge,” he said. “I’m no where near where I want to be. I’m getting stronger in the back, stronger legs and core. I only started it this year as a bit of a tester. It’s going all right.”

Rush’s move coincided with the arrival of fellow props Stephen Neli and Noa Taufaoo and the return from Sydney of Blake Walsh. Leeland Marshall was in the Newcastle squad this year and Dave Waller has also played plenty of first grade.

“It’s weird,” Rush said. “What was probably our weakness has turned into a weapon in one season. We didn’t go into the season thinking we need to have the best scrum in the comp, but we knew we had to fix it. It is still pretty new to me. I send video to my old man every weekend and he critiques it. The big thing for me is fitness. I want to drop a bit more weight so I can get around the paddock a bit easier.”

Rush’s dad, Eric, is a former All Black and sevens legend.

“It is a blessing, but it’s not a blessing at the same time,” Rush said of having a famous father. “Rugby-wise, it is pretty hard. We play completely different positions which takes a bit of the pressure off me. My young brothers are playing in the same position as him.”

At 24, Rush still has ambition regarding rugby.

“Playing a high level of footy has always been the dream,” he said. “I have a partner here now and I have just started a plumbing apprenticeship. I am trying to sort life outside of footy first.”