Departing from the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2013, Jaelen Feeney knew he had to leave to make a name for himself at the Newcastle Knights after being stuck behind players such as Trent Hodkinson, Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye standing in his way.
Since then, he has steered the Knights Under 20s side to a 2014 minor premiership, represented Queensland in the 2014 Under 20s State of Origin match, and will line up at halfback in this weekend’s VB NSW Cup Grand Final against the Wyong Roos.
He played an imperative role in last week’s preliminary final, sparking a 30-26 victory over Mounties with a first half hat-trick that included a long-range effort on the stroke of halftime.
“I got gifted two offloads and just took my opportunities, so that’s what it comes off the back of,” said Feeney.
“I was just pushing up and doing my job, being a halfback and just pushing around the ball. I was absolutely rattled [after the third try], so I was in the sheds still getting a breather before coming out for the second half.”
The Knights as a club do not have to look far to seek inspiration for this week’s Grand Final against their Central Coast rivals.
The 48-12 loss in the 2014 VB NSW Cup Grand Final, falling short in last year’s Holden Cup title race despite winning the minor premiership, and avenging their incredibly disappointing 2015 NRL season – these are just a few of the reasons that Feeney seeks redemption in the form of a premiership this Sunday afternoon.
On top of that, there is the added motivation of sending retiring veteran Clint Newton out on a high, and as a member of last year’s Holden Cup heartbreak, the crafty halfback is desperate for a Grand Final victory.
“We kind of choked out last year, which is unfortunate,” said Feeney.
“Hopefully we can get the win and do us proud and redeem last year - also [Newton] retiring this year, obviously he didn’t get to win last year, so our big focus is to get him a win and send him off on a good note, so that’s our plan.”
Feeney recently extended his contract with the Knights, keeping him at the club until at least the end of 2017.
Since joining the club, he has steered two different Knights’ teams deep into the finals series in as many years, and is excited at the prospect of taking on their cross-town rivals in a Grand Final this weekend.
“[It is my] first year in NSW Cup level, so to take the boys to the Grand Final I’m very excited,” said Feeney.
“There is a massive rivalry between us and Wyong. I didn’t understand the rivalry until this year, but obviously we’ve got a big [match] this weekend.”
That rivalry that has been driven into Feeney extends from adapting to the culture of the Newcastle Knights, who have some of the most passionate and loyal fans in Rugby League.
Unfortunately for the club, their first grade side finished dead last this season, but the future is bright, as they possess up and coming talents such as Feeney, Jake Mamo and Danny Levi.
“Obviously first grade didn’t have the year they planned,” said Feeney.
“To give the fans something back and know that their future is in our hands is a big focus, and there is a team still here that’s having a crack. We’re going to do them proud.”
The 30-26 victory in last weekend’s Preliminary Final saw some tense moments in the dying minutes for the Knights, as a Josh McCrone inspired Mounties threw everything at them in the second half.
Feeney admits his side will need to improve if they are to overcome a strong and in-form Roos outfit.
“Our second half we let them in. We should’ve locked them away so that’s what we need to do - we need a big 80-minute performance next week and hopefully we’ll win.”
Feeney has proven over the past two seasons that he has the capabilities to set up games for whatever team he is playing in, and has the ability to take those teams into September.
The transition from Under 20s to the VB NSW Cup was a successful transition for the talented playmaker pursuing his NRL dream that will hopefully become a reality.
The NSWRL Grand Final day, held at Pirtek Stadium on Sunday, September 27, is the biggest day on the VB NSW Cup, Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield calendars and the only live rugby league in Sydney that weekend – and adult tickets are just $10, with kids under 12 free! With face painting, live music and a carnival-like atmosphere, it’s the perfect day out for young and old.Get your tickets here.