For The Love Of The Game

If you think you know Nathan “The Larrikin” Ross, think again, for something lies far deeper beneath the surface.

Those fortunate enough to know Ross know a deeper, meaningful side to the man affectionately known as “Ross Dog”.

In one of the season’s feel-good moments, the 26-year-old fan favourite scored a try in his long-awaited NRL debut for Newcastle against the Dragons in Round 21. To Ross, putting the ball down meant a whole lot more than just four points – it was a culmination of an extraordinary journey, especially for someone so often misunderstood because of a vivacious personality.

“They say when people are about to die, their whole life flashes before their eyes,” Ross said. “Just as I was putting the ball down my whole football career flashed before my eyes – putting boots on at the age of six, playing in different places, seeing different parts of the world.

“I wanted to be a be a football player – an NRL player – so bad. After knock back after knock back, with the personality I have, some coaches don’t like it, some do like it. I had a couple of coaches in a row that thought it was the wrong type of attitude towards football where they didn’t understand it’s the way I get go about my business.“

Go back and look at how obvious the joy was for Ross on that Sunday. Scoring on debut, he was all spot-jumping, chest-thumping and finger-pointing before hugging teammates in a deeply powerful moment, one dedicated with a hand-gestured ‘Z’ to his 18-month old son.

“When I threw the symbol up, it was more for when Ziah’s watching it when I’m 40. I can say ‘Look at what your dad used to do, even in my proudest individual moment of my life I was thinking of you’. It meant so much, everything came together at that point in time and I was wowed, it’s surreal.”

It was a debut a long time coming for Ross, named 2014 VB NSW Cup Fullback of the Year, scoring 17 tries in 16 games on the way to the decider for the Knights.

In an industry of club drama, player indiscretions and contract backflips, Ross is the thoughtful colourful character saving his flips for the field - famously performing a forward somersault in his post-try celebration against Manly in the VB NSW Cup earlier this season (see video above).

“Rossy's a unique human,” said Knights VB NSW Cup coach Matt Lantry. “When he’s scoring some tries and doing that sort of stuff, it signals he’s enjoying his footy and where he’s at.

“Teammates get around him and have a laugh. He’s a likeable character and an important part of our team.”

Ross is never short on words, delighted to crack jokes and recount personal tales to teammates about fashion advice and first dates gone horribly wrong.

“I’m just a massive kid and I’ve always been a massive kid,” Ross said. “I thrive on making other people comfortable and happy. When you come into a football environment there are a lot of people who are really serious about it. If I can make them feel a little bit more relaxed in a group situation or give them something else to think about which will lighten the load and make them feel more comfortable, I’ll do that in any way.”

Ross’ rugby league odyssey finally reached its destination after a long journey for the Coogee and Burleigh junior, bouncing around the globe in Queensland, Newcastle and France before a standout season for Kurri Kurri. But it almost didn’t happen for Ross who gave up on two occasions to work in the mines and support his wife and son.

“I’ve been all over the world. I quit footy twice and kept coming back because footy keeps finding me,” he said.

“I find football is relaxing. It’s an outlet. It’s one thing that I really understand. I’m a young father and was working full-time in the mines whilst playing footy. I don’t find it to be a balancing act at all because I do have a lot of energy. Football’s not a chore – it’s something I do because I love it. The day I stop loving it will be the day I stop doing it.

“Going out to Kurri and seeing how much football meant to such a small town made me fall in love with it all over again. The players are gifted and people want to watch that because it makes them happy. If I can use my trade to make people happy, then I’m going to do it.”

There’s no doubt Ross shares great joy out of bringing others happiness at any opportunity whether it’s through rugby league or his work in Work, Health and Safety where he fits his spare time inspecting sites and providing reports in his busy schedule.

With one year left on his two-year base-wage second-tier contract, “Ross Dog” is hungry to make the most of his time and impress the Knights’ new coach, Nathan Brown, however he can.

“I’ll be chomping at the bit to play VB NSW Cup finals football after my time in first grade,” Ross said.

“I’m hoping to show [Brown] that I’ve got the wares to be a permanent first-grader, not just someone who wants to fill in every now and again. It’s been a long time coming and it’s a cliché but it’s a dream come true when you work for it for so long. You know those nights where you have dreamt of playing NRL – it is a dream come true.”