FORMER Newcastle Knights utility forward Brenton Horwood is looking forward to a Valentine’s Day date with Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
That is the day Horwood’s new club, Easts Brisbane Tigers, plays the NRL powerhouse in a pre-season trial.
Forster-born, Maitland-raised Horwood, who spent the past two seasons in the Knights’ NSW Cup squad, has signed a two-year deal to play for the Tigers in the Queensland Cup.
Easts Brisbane are the Storm’s feeder club, and Horwood said the Tigers were scheduled to play their NRL brethren in a trial on February 14.
Horwood is preparing to give the Tigers his best for the next two seasons in the Queensland Cup, but his ultimate goal is to break into the NRL, and his contract contains a clause allowing him to leave Easts if he is signed by an NRL club.
An auspicious audition in front of Bellamy will only enhance his chances of a call-up when the premiership-winning former NSW coach needs replacements to fill the void when State of Origin commitments and injuries kick in.
‘‘The coach at Easts Brisbane [Craig Ingebrigtsen] has a great relationship with Craig Bellamy, and they’re always talking about the two sides,’’ Horwood said.
‘‘We actually have a trial game against Melbourne Storm on the 14th of February, so that will be a great opportunity to display my skills in front of the head coach there.’’
Horwood, 24, was a member of the Maitland Pickers team that won Newcastle Rugby League premierships in 2010 and 2011.
He moved from Forster to Newcastle as a child, played his first two years of junior league with Western Suburbs Rosellas, then joined East Maitland Griffins when his family moved to Maitland.
After playing in the same East Maitland junior teams as Knights workhorse Robbie Rochow, Horwood graduated to Maitland’s senior grades.
He had a stint at Kurri Kurri when the Pickers withdrew from the Newcastle competition, returned and played his part in Maitland’s consecutive grand final wins over Cessnock and Wests, then joined the Knights in 2013 and played two years in the NSW Cup under current NRL coach Rick Stone.
Horwood would have preferred to stay in Newcastle but could not secure a new contract with the Knights.
‘‘I would have loved to have stayed at Newcastle but they couldn’t come to the table,’’ he said.
‘‘Newcastle’s such a great place, and it was pretty hard to leave, but I’ve got to follow my dream and go where the opportunity presents itself.
‘‘Towards the end of the year, I asked my manager to start putting some feelers out, and there was some interest from Burleigh and Easts Tigers, but Easts put a pretty good offer forward and are also trying to help me get a job in my trade.
‘‘I’m an aircraft maintenance engineer by trade and Easts have some contacts with Qantas at Brisbane Airport, so they’re trying to get me back into that.
‘‘I’m really excited to start a new adventure.’’
Horwood drove from Newcastle to Brisbane on Monday, spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday unpacking and settling into a rented unit, then joined his new coach and teammates for his first Tigers’ training session on Wednesday night.
He travelled solo because his girlfriend, Nicole Galloway, is a psychologist who began a six-month contract in a new job in Newcastle on the same day he agreed to terms with Easts.
The Tigers made the past two Queensland Cup grand finals only to be beaten on the big day ‘‘so hopefully we can improve on that this season’’, Horwood said.
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