Luke Bateman was set to make his long-awaited return to rugby league after a year out and appear in the New South Wales Cup this season for the Mount Pritchard Mounties, a Canberra Raiders feeder club.
However, as is common for almost everyone in 2020, he’s had an abrupt change of plan.
The NSW Cup season was cancelled entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the original suspension of the NRL competition for the foreseeable future meant he was unsure what he might be doing throughout 2020.
With players having to find other work in lieu of game time, the 25-year-old lock/second-rower made the decision a couple of weeks ago to pack his bags and travel up to his native Queensland where he has swapped the Steeden to work alongside his stepfather in forestry.
His stepfather’s worked in forestry for 15 years and it’s a long way from the life of a league star.
Bateman sets his alarm early. The 5:00 am start means he can make the 30-minute drive to the outskirts of the small rural town of Injune and complete a long 10-hour shift before returning home.
Three times a week after finishing work, Bateman gets dropped off by his stepdad at a gate 4 km away from his residence so he can run the rest of the way to maintain a level of fitness.
Chopping wood and working in forestry machines has been a good experience for Bateman and though he relishes a job that makes you work hard for your money, it has made his love for rugby league stronger than ever before.
“When the competition shut down my stepfather rang me and said ‘you have a job with me if you want it’ so I got to Brisbane before the boarders closed off and went to work with him,” Bateman said. “I had never done this sort of work before, especially seeing that it’s eight hours west of Brisbane, but it’s been a good learning curve and has made me appreciate footy even more.
“I love having something to do every day, which is better than sitting around wondering when we will be playing again.
“It’s been pretty hard for me to not think about footy because it has been 12 months since I have played and I could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it got stripped away.”
The past 12 months have been very hard for Bateman, who had to spend that time nursing a difficult knee injury that was initially supposed to keep him on the sidelines for 4 to 6 weeks.
Over the last couple of weeks, Bateman finally laced up his shoes and started to run again as he prepared to work harder than ever to get himself back in a Raiders’ jersey.
Bateman, who signed a one-year contract extension with the Raiders in September last year, said he’s been impressed with the great start in 2020 on the back of 2019’s success.
He highlighted this considering the team did not back up their solid 2016 campaign, the following season they finished 10th.
Bateman hopes the NRL can recommence on 28 May as they controversially believe is possible.
“The boys came back this season and they looked like they didn’t miss a beat, they were straight into it and playing good football,” Bateman said. “Everything that was talked about in training and game plans followed straight into the games. They looked really good, so it was a bit of a shame that it got stopped early.”