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Sport NRL rookies: Jake Simpkin is the breakout Tigers hooker looking to emulate Harry Grant's rise

05:06  15 april  2021
05:06  15 april  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Throughout the 2021 NRL season, Sporting News will be profiling some of the game's emerging young stars who are tipped to make a name for themselves this year, talking to them about their rugby league journey to now being on the cusp of NRL stardom.

A Toowoomba native, Jake Simpkin only ever had eyes for the Broncos. That was always his dream when he was signed to the club at a young age.

But a surprise phone call from his manager in 2019 during Magic Round to say Michael Maguire was eager to meet him for dinner in Brisbane immediately changed all that.

Making the move to Sydney last year, Simpkin watched the remarkable rise of Harry Grant at the Tigers, and has been tipped for similar stardom as the now Melbourne Storm and Queensland Origin No. 9.

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Inspired by the electric speed of Rabbitohs, NSW and Australian hooker Damien Cook and the "smarts" of future immortal Cameron Smith, Simpkin is determined the make the Tigers No. 9 jersey for years to come and will receive his long-awaited debut this weekend against South Sydney.

We chatted to the young rake about his inspiring rugby league journey from a Broncos dreamer living in Queensland, to the day he got the call from Madge and his determination to become one of the game's elite hookers.

Talk to us about growing up in a footy town like Toowoomba.

It's the culture in Toowoomba. Everyone loves playing rugby league. I was pretty exposed to that throughout my youth. I think I started in the backyard at a young age kicking the footy around.

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Around under 9s I started playing properly in Toowoomba.

Are you from a footy family?

Me and my brother play, I've got a younger sister as well, but she didn't play. But we are a footy family.

When did you realise at a young age that you wanted to be an NRL player?

Any young kid dream when you pick up the footy is you to play at the top level of the game. At a pretty young age I thought to myself that I wanted to play professionally.

But that's a dream at a young age, I think when I made my first rep side – I think it was under 15 Schoolboys for Queensland – that's when I thought 'okay I'm going to have a crack here'.

Were there any players in the NRL now that were in that under 15s team with you?

Yeah, Tommy Dearden. I was in the white team, there's a white and maroon, and Tommy was in the white team with me.

You started as a fullback didn't you?

Yeah! I played a bit of fullback coming through the ranks from about under 9's, made a few rep sides at fullback, and then switched over to hooker when I was about 14 I think.

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You dreamt of being a Broncos player, you signed to them at a very young age, can you remember that day you got that call?

It was pretty special. I remember back then we had elite player development contracts and a few of my mates had them and I hadn't got one, so I was pretty filthy at that.

I remember they just called home and said 'we want to sign Jake to a three-year deal'. I was so excited. It was the best day of my life, when I was a little young kid. It was pretty special.

You signed with the Tigers during Magic Round in 2019, how did that happen?

Yeah, I was actually getting changed to go and hang out with some of my mates and my manager called me and said 'are you free at the moment? Madge wants to have dinner and meet up tonight before they play tomorrow'.

That was a bit of a spin-out. A head coach wanted to meet up with me and have a chat. It was pretty special and pretty cool. It didn't take him too long to convince me to come to the club.

Before that meeting did you see yourself wearing any other colours than the Broncos?

No, I was always fixated on playing for the Broncos. Even my family didn't ever want me to go away. When I was young Dad was always like 'you're not playing for a Sydney club'.

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To be honest, I didn't see myself being in Sydney, but you never know what happens and I'm here now and I'm absolutely loving it.

How has it been being away from your family?

It was pretty tough for the first year but since then I've adapted pretty well, I've got some good roommates. I love it here. It's awesome.

You're really enjoying your experience at the Tigers by the sound of it, who are some of the players who have been really influential for you?

Last year Benji Marshall, he's pretty special as a player and as a person. He would've been up there.

Luke Brooks has been great, and this year we have James Tamou. Players like that, who have played NRL and have a lot of experience, they have a lot of help to give.

It's just been special.

Watching Harry Grant last year, going from being on the fringe of first grade to being an Origin player within a year, does that inspire you?

It just shows everyone that it's possible if you put the hard work in, you'll get the rewards. Harry's put a lot of work in behind the scenes, and was stuck behind Cameron Smith at the Storm.

It's a really good feeling knowing that could happen if I work hard like he did. If those opportunities come my way I'll be taking them with both hands.

Outside of the club, who's a player you watch and try to model your game off?

Everyone likes Damien Cook like that. He's fast, explosive and that's how I like to play, as a running type of nine. I watch a bit of him, and a bit of Cameron Smith and the smarts that he's got.

Those two would be the main ones.

And away from footy, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Me and the boys usually just go to the beach on the weekends around Coogee and Clovelly.

I like playing golf, golf would be up there as one of my big hobbies. I haven't had a swing from a while though, I'd be a bit rusty!

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