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Prop's family tragedy and fates hand in NRL debut

When Adam Woolnough lost his mother as a teen fresh out of home, the thought of leaving the Knights popped into his mind.

It was a fleeting thought. But he quickly realised the best way to honour her memory was to keep chasing his NRL dream.

Having relocated straight out of school at the end of 1999, this country boy from Taree kept working. Not just on the field but off it too.

You name it and the forward probably did it.



Boarding with an elderly couple in Adamstown, Woolnough worked odd jobs to offset his part time wage with the Knights.

“I had to really find my way as there was no job waiting for me,” Woolnough said.

“I didn’t go to University, I was working in nursery, retail, local bottle shops and it was really a struggle to make ends meet in that first year.

“I didn’t go into the full-time training squad and I was in the 19’s squad. Along the way there was some personal tragedy with my mother passing in 2000 and also injuries as well so that first year was quite tough for myself.”

While there were some days where he questioned whether being away from his family was worth it, Woolnough soldiered on.

Wanting to honour his mother by living out his dream, he came out the other side of what was an emotionally taxing period of his life.

“I do remember many conversations with my brother Andrew about what it all meant and was it all worth it, but over time the realisation that this is what I really wanted to do, to play football and if I could carry on my mum’s name and legacy and what she did to help me develop as a person and as a footballer, that’s what I wanted to do and that was helped through the guidance of my brother and my father,” he said.

“In 2002, I got the call-up to first grade, there was a trial match up at Cessnock and (Michael) Hagan came up to me in the sheds and said to me look, you’ve had three or four years in the junior system, this is basically now or never.

“It wasn’t until nine weeks (into the season) until I got my opportunity during the Origin period… I finally got my crack against the New Zealand Warriors.”

Woolnough’s hard work and sacrifice had finally paid off.

Making your NRL debut is something to cherish for a lifetime, and for Woolnough, it was made even more special.

His was against the New Zealand Warriors on 17 May, a significant day as it is also his mother's birth date.

“All you ever wanted to do as a Knights junior then in the first-grade squad, was to play Friday night at Marathon Stadium, that was the pinnacle… the special touch was that it was on my mother’s birthday, 17th of May, considering what had happened a couple of years before it was like a parallel universe to debut on her birthday,” he said.

“It gives me goose bumps just to think about it.

“I was only 19, tipping the scales at 102 kg and coming up against a pretty intimidating New Zealand team… unfortunately we come away with a lost but a great experience to do it on that day.

“It was a surreal experience and something that I will always treasure.”